One must stand up and salute when certain ships sail out to sea, for the last time.
I stand and salute Peter Watson as he unfurled his sails for the final journey home.
He was quite a guy. A dyed-in-the-wool newspaperman, he oversaw the Gloucester Times fortunes through an era that was to be the last of the old-style newspapering days; days that included typesetting, platemaking, scores of reporters, typists, a huge ad base and a folded copy on almost every door stoop in town.
Before the days of computers, the Internet, cable TV, blogs, home-page news sites and the 24-hour news cycle, there was the prince of the realm: the local newspaper. It still had to compete with the Globe and other Boston papers, but geography was on its side — and boy, could they cover the waterfront.
Reporters competed with each other as much as with their rivals. It was a glorious time for the ilk. Joe Garland was still writing his GDT column, stirring up trouble and controversy in his own way. Peter Watson seemed to revel in the breadth of the influence the paper had, carried on from the traditions of the Golden Age of newspapers from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, as well as the traditions of his wave making predecessor, Phil Weld. Neither man was afraid of telling it like it was and, like every newspaperman, they loved a scoop.
I remember Peter most when he was publisher of the paper and Bill McCollough was editor.
Gloucester was under a lot of new development pressure then, and the paper seemed to turn a corner on presenting both sides of the oncoming battles. The first was the Schubb trailer park in West Gloucester, which appeared headed for a whitewash approval until Peter covered the gigantic turnout at City Hall, using wallpaper-sized photos of the balconies stuffed to their creaking limits with angry neighbors. It was the birth of the slower growth consciousness that was to spread.
Next up was Burger King at the “other entrance” of Fishtown, the Bass Avenue lights, with a terrible traffic plan that would have forced all cars in and out through left turns across traffic that already bottlenecked at all hours. Even the pro-growth Mr. Watson saw the folly of this plan, despite BK attorney Bill Shea’s furious remonstrations to the contrary. No, they wouldn’t put it anywhere else — and the rest is history.
The point is, Peter Watson was a very open-minded individual with a wry sense of humor and we were lucky to have him at the helm. I got to know him when he’d come to see some of my comedy shows and he’d always stick around to say hi and yuk it up.
He was a habitual runner, too. One would suddenly see him dash by downtown or on a country lane. Hey!
That was Peter Watson, wasn’t it?
I remember seeing him up the line, running by out of the blue in Beverly or near North Shore Music Theater. I’d always beep and he’d wave and give a big “hellooo” back.
He was an energetic but elegant runner. He set a wonderful tone of balance in Gloucester between commerce and livability. He carried on some great traditions and invented more than a few himself.
I wish I’d gotten to say goodbye because he was one of the best guys to ever take up work in Gloucester. He was nothing but class, and he snuck out of here too soon.
Gordon Baird is a local actor, writer, musician and a co-founder of Musician magazine.