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John Robert Watson

Obituary for John Robert Watson

March 19, 2017


John Robert Watson, known as a "renaissance man," inspiring friends and family with his unwavering strength, patient and loving dedication to his family on both coasts, and adventurous spirit, passed away peacefully at home in Portland, OR on March 19, 2017 at the age of 91.

John was the spirited youngest of six children born to David M. and Anna (Forster) Watson on May 23, 1925 in Elkins Park, PA. Known to take off on adventures exploring his neighborhood, returning after dark and even an impromptu hitchhiking trip to DC to "see what was going on," it is no surprise that John's life was filled with adventure, friendship and passion.

John met his first love, Alma Mae Cooney, as a young man at Abington Middle School during shop class (Alma had the wooden spoon she was making engraved for their 5oth wedding anniversary). After graduating from Abington Senior High School, John and Alma continued their courtship, trading letters across the sea as John served our country in Europe during World War II as an Army Corporal in the Field Artillery. John saved his stipend, sending it to Alma's sister to help him select an engagement ring. Upon his return from service abroad, John married his sweetheart, "herself," in 1946. John and Alma enjoyed over 50 years of marriage before her death in 1999. During this time, they raised two daughters in Maple Glen, PA, infamously led a horsemanship Girl Scout troop, were members of Ambler Presbyterian Church, served as mentors and sponsors with the Big Brothers of Philadelphia and the International House of Philadelphia, became active sailors and members of the Nockamixon Yacht Club, were dedicated patrons and advocates for Philadelphia's art, music, cultural and education communities, and members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Art Museum. Well into their retirement, John and Alma pursued a passion for travel with their friends and family, taking them across Europe, sailing the Greek and British Virgin Islands and across the United States. Their "home away from home," discovered with their dear friends, was New Harbor, ME, beginning a 40 year annual tradition with their children, grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren.

After his military service, John earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and became one of the first individuals in this country to earn a Master's Degree in Environmental Engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. He worked for several engineering and contracting companies before joining Smith Kline and French Laboratories (which later became Glaxo SmithKline). John and Alma lived in Cork, Ireland and London, England, where John became Director of Corporate Technical Services for GSK to oversee expansion of the corporation's facilities in Europe, India, and Pakistan. After returning to Pennsylvania, John retired from GSK, retaining a career's worth of worldwide experiences and friendships.

After Alma's death John spent time with his children and grandchildren and continued to travel and explore. While on a wine tasting trip in France, he met his second wife; Mary Dreyer while cruising the Dordogne and sharing wine and the stories of their previous loves. After discovering a shared love of travel, wine, arts and culture, and lively debate, Mary and John were married in Portland, Oregon. They had 15 incredible years together, exploring, eating, enjoying great music and art, taking classes and spending time with friends and family. Mary introduced John to and nurtured a new love for the West Coast. Mary nursed John through his final months and was by his side during his peaceful passing. John gained a West Coast family who he loved and cherished.

John is known on both coasts as a man who loved adventure, who debated and listened with passion and kindness, who would invite anyone and everyone for a glass of wine or an espresso, who gave selflessly and generously of his heart and soul, and instilled in his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren a zest for life and the power of love.

John is survived by his wife, Mary Dreyer, a sister; Sybil Meyers of Green Lane, PA, his daughters and sons-in law; Leslie and David DeLuca of Norristown, PA and Lynne and Bruce Dore of Lower Gwynedd, PA, his grandchildren; Jennifer (Dore) and Dennis Flannelly of Carlisle, MA and Stephanie Dore of New York, NY, his four great-grandsons; Jonathan (Jack) Watson (his namesake), William, Christopher, and Thomas Flannelly, and his West Coast family of 2 step daughters, step grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

The family asks that you spend time with your own family and friends, share a bottle of wine with your loved ones, and make a toast to life.  As John was so eloquently quoted in Wall Street Journal's 2002 Open That Bottle Night by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, "We realized that with more of our lives behind us than ahead of us, it was time to create some new memories… Life is wonderful, and miraculous, too…So here's to 'the gift of the grape.'"

Private family and military honors in Pennsylvania and Oregon.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations in his name to:
Drexel University College of Engineering in memory of John R. Watson
P.O. Box 8215
Philadelphia, PA 19101
United States Service Organization by calling 1-888-484-3876 or online at

To share your fondest memories of John, please visit
Leaver/Cable of Buckingham, PA

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Suggested Memorial Donations

  • Drexel University College of Engineering in memory of John R. Watson
    P.O. Box 8215
    Philadelphia, PA 19101

Arrangements By

Leaver-Cable Funeral Home, Ltd.

4886 Old York Road
Quarry Rd
Buckingham, PA 18912
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