Beloved English professor dies at 60
Published: Monday, January 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 21, 2013 23:01
A University of Southern Mississippi English professor known for his humor, thoughtfulness and eccentricities died Friday of heart failure. A memorial service is planned for Saturday to commemorate his 27 years of service to USM. He was 60.
Kenneth Watson, a British Romanticism professor, taught numerous undergraduate and graduate courses, including World Literature and Literary Criticism.
“His students will always remember his kindness, and no one will ever forget his brilliance,” said senior English major Cade Varnado, who took several undergraduate courses with Watson and worked with him on his Honors thesis. “He was teeming with knowledge, literary and otherwise, and he did everything he could to grant his students access to it. No one ever left his class not feeling like they had been exposed to the wisdom of the ages.”
Watson earned degrees from Kenyon College and the University of Vermont in Burlington and completed his doctorate in English with a specialization in Romantic poetry from Duke University before joining the USM English department in 1986.
In addition to his academic achievements, Varnado remembers Watson for his character.
“Dr. Watson’s most legendary attributes were his many quirks—his refusal to give up smoking even when he had bronchitis, his approval of in-class cursing so long as it pertained to the Nazis, the way the floor in his office was always completely covered in papers while his desk remained bare,” Varnado said.
According to Martina Sciolino, an English professor and academic adviser, Watson made an impact on Southern Miss faculty as well as students.
“Ken Watson was witty, sardonic, had depths of perspective that still surprised me after twenty years of knowing him, was truly loving, deeply non judgmental and hilarious,” Sciolino said. “There was nothing he could do that didn’t appear elegant—truly a gentleman of the old school who would extend his friendship to anyone. He could move effortlessly from the sacred to the profane, the satirical to the sublime, the beautiful to the bawdy without a seam. He had the language and the vision for all human experience, and he shared it tirelessly.”
Watson was also known for his accomplishments in the field of poetry, serving as the associate editor of “The Southern Quarterly,” coeditor of “The Past Is Not Dead: Essays from the Southern Quarterly” and essayist of many published works on Romantic poetry.
“In the time since his passing, I’ve found myself returning to a piece of Stevenson poem he recited in one of his classes, Varnado said. “He committed it to memory. He would recite: ‘Home is the sailor, home from the sea/And the hunter is home from the hill.’ It brings me great comfort to remember those words, and his smile.”
The memorial service for Watson is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. at a location yet to be determined. Information regarding services will be available at www.usm.edu/english. Donations for a memorial fund may be made through the English Department. For more information, call 601-266-4319.