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Longtime friend of the blind dies at 97

Muriel P. Watson co-founded in 1966 what today is known as Lighthouse of Pinellas after her husband began losing his sight.

Published April 7, 2006

LARGO - Muriel P. Watson, co-founder of Channel Markers for the Blind, now known as the Lighthouse of Pinellas at Watson Center, died Tuesday (April 4, 2006). She was 97.

Born in Atkinson, Maine, Mrs. Watson moved to the area in 1956 from Providence, R.I., with her husband, John, a prominent businessman and civic leader. When Mr. Watson began losing his sight, the couple were devastated and searched for assistance.

Unable to find anything comprehensive that would help with daily living, the Watsons created Channel Markers for the Blind in 1966, an organization whose main goal is to teach people to cope with vision loss and give them confidence and self-esteem.

Mrs. Watson had been a member of the Lighthouse's board of directors since its founding and also served as a board officer. Before her involvement with the Lighthouse, she worked 32 years in banking.

Dan Mann, president and chief executive officer of the Lighthouse of Pinellas, praised Mrs. Watson's enthusiasm.

"Mrs. Watson was a tireless worker," he said. "She attended every board meeting, every child's party. Just two weeks ago at a fundraiser, she was giving an inspirational speech when some might think a 97-year-old should be home in bed.

"A day hasn't gone by that I haven't been impressed with her energy."

Mrs. Watson received Sertoma's Service to Mankind Award in 2002 and was named as one of the six Women of Excellence by the Tampa Bay Research Institute in 2004.

The Lighthouse of Pinellas, located in the John B. and Muriel P. Watson Building in Largo, has served thousands of people afflicted with vision problems.

Because she saw a need and felt so strongly about her cause, Mrs. Watson made several trips to California at her own expense and convinced the board to start a children's program. She also raised approximately $3-million for the center.

"Mrs. Watson never shirked responsibility and was always an example of inspiration and courage to the clients," Mann said, "and she remained so to the final day of her life."

Mrs. Watson's hobbies included volunteering, reading, needlepoint, golfing, ballroom dancing and swimming.

Survivors include two nephews, Vaughan L. Philpot, Seattle, and Aubrey E. Philpot, Dover-Foxcroft, Maine; several grandnieces and grandnephews; and five stepgrandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. April 14 at Hubbell Funeral Home, 499 N Indian Rocks Road, Belleair Bluffs.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Lighthouse of Pinellas at John B. and Muriel P. Watson Center Building, 6925 112th Circle, Largo FL 33773 or Foxcroft Academy, for the Alonzo Philpot family memorial fund, 975 W Main St., Dover-Foxcroft, Maine 04426.

[Last modified April 7, 2006, 01:31:16]

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