Archive for Wednesday, October 25, 1989

CITY MANAGER BUFORD WATSON DIES AT AGE 59

October 25, 1989

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Buford Watson, who helped guide Lawrence's steady growth in his 19 years as city manager, died early this morning after suffering a heart attack.

The Douglas County Ambulance Service was called to Watson's home at 11:27 p.m. Tuesday, minutes after Watson arrived home after the Lawrence City Commission meeting. Watson, 59, was rushed shortly after midnight to Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where he was admitted to the cardiac care unit.

Doctors at LMH tried to revive Watson, who had no history of heart problems, but he was pronounced dead at 1:44 a.m.

"IT'S A SAD day," Barkley Clark, former Lawrence mayor and city commissioner, said late this morning.

"I knew Buford as a friend and served as a city commissioner I think longer than anyone else with Buford. I always had tremendous admiration for his management skills. But more than that, I felt he was a great friend of the city. Lawrence has experienced a great loss."

Watson's son, Mark, who is a city manager in Grapevine, Tex., said his father had many other job opportunities during the years but never seriously thought about leaving Lawrence.

"He was so proud of this community and really dedicated his life to it," he said.

Funeral services for Watson will be at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Plymouth Congregational Church with the Revs. Kendall Clark Baker and Jonathan Knight officiating. Burial arrangements are pending with Warren-McElwain Mortuary.

Born Jan. 2, 1930, in Columbia, Mo., Watson was a Kansas University alumnus. He completed his coursework in public administration in 1958, finishing his thesis and receiving his master's degree in 1960. He earned his bachelor's degree, also in public administration, from the University of Missouri in Columbia.

HE MARRIED G. Faye Jensen on Feb. 13, 1954, in Columbia. She survives of the home. Other survivors include four sons, Mark, Grapevine, Tex., Philip, Lawrence, Brian, Shawnee Mission, and Brent, Fort Collins, Colo.; his father, Buford M. Watson Sr., Columbia; two brothers, Paul and Dwayne, both of Columbia; a sister, Ruth Buchanan, Apple Valley, Calif.; and four grandchildren.

Watson began his professional career with a one-year internship with the city manager of Angelo, Tex. His first job as a manager came in 1958, in Henryetta, Okla. He held the job for three years, then accepted, in turn, manager's posts in Muskogee, Okla., where he stayed for five years, and Sioux City, Iowa. He left Sioux City after 2 years to take the Lawrence job in January 1970.

His first decade as Lawrence city manager was marked largely by growth hundreds of new houses were built in the southern and western parts of town and a number of civic projects. These included a new library, some public housing for the poor and elderly and new water and sewer plants.

WATSON was credited with a major role in many of them, especially the downtown renewal of 1972 that used federal funds to transform the city's main shopping district.

Watson also had some difficult times on the job. His first year, marked by unprecedented turmoil in Lawrence over the Vietnam War and racial issues, included major arson fires, confrontations in the streets and the shooting deaths of two young men.

Watson's identification with the Haskell Loop road project in East Lawrence, put on the shelf by the city commission in 1976, antagonized some neighborhood activists. Also in 1976, Watson was the lightning rod as city management and newly formed police and fire associations conducted bitter negotiations. Other city workers, especially in the sanitation, or trash collection, department, were highly critical of the city manager.

The events led some critics to petition for changing from the city manager-commission form of government to a mayor-council form. The proposal was rejected 5-to-2 by voters in a 1977 election.

WATSON'S role changed somewhat when the commission that was elected in April 1977 decided to let the mayor assume the role of chief spokesman for city government. In addition, Watson no longer personally handled employee negotiations.

Watson had to fight off a serious effort in 1982 by some commission members to force his resignation. In a letter to the manager, then-City Commissioner Tom Gleason asked for Watson's resignation and said he would force a vote on firing Watson if the resignation wasn't forthcoming. However, Watson survived that challenge, and since then, new commissioners generally more favorable to the manager have been elected.

Watson had been a member of the International City Management Assn. since 1956, and in 1986, he became the first Kansan to be elected as the organization's president. He had also served as an ICMA vice president in 1979-80.

IN NOVEMBER 1988, he was the first recipient of Kansas Association of City Manager's "Buford M. Watson Jr. Award for Excellence in Local Government Administration." In 1982, he was honored by the ICMA for adopting local government programs from West Germany and the Netherlands. He had also served the ICMA as a member of the ethics committee and was a past member of its international task force that studied urban management in England, Holland and West Germany in 1976.

He was the past president of the Kansas Association of City Managers, past chairman of the ICMA task force on form of government and a member of the League of Kansas Municipalities, legislative committee.

He also was a member of the Plymouth Congregational Church, where he served on the board of deacons and board of trustees. And he was serving on the capital campaign for the budget committee.

HE ALSO WAS active in the Lawrence Rotary Club, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and the chamber's economic development committee, and Scottish Rite of Lawrence. He also was a member, board member and vice president of the Kansas River Alliance and Assurance District and Pi Alpha Alpha, a national honor society for public affairs and administration.

The Watson family has established the Buford M. Watson Jr. Scholarship in KU's Department of Public Administration. Memorials may be sent in care of the public administration department, 318 Blake Hall, Lawrence, 66045, or to Warren-McElwain Mortuary, which is in charge of arrangements.

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