Archive for Wednesday, October 25, 1989


October 25, 1989


Commitment, dedication and leadership were words used today as friends and professional associates reflected on the career of City Manager Buford Watson, who died early this morning.

Watson, city manager in Lawrence since 1970 and only the fourth city manager in Lawrence's history, died after suffering a heart attack.

Mayor Bob Schumm, who has spent 4 years on the Lawrence City Commission and who carried the news of Watson's death to other city commissioners early this morning, praised Watson for his commitment to the city, for his professionalism and for his ability to guide the commission in difficult situations.

"Obviously, it's just a tremendous shock to us," Schumm said. "It was totally unexpected. I don't think I, or any member of the commission or staff, can assess the total loss we're going to see from Buford's death."

SCHUMM SAID Watson had a "tremendous personality, in terms of professional stature and in his ability to facilitate and help the commission in understanding complex matters."

Schumm, as did many of Watson's contemporaries, said he didn't always agree with Watson. "But he was a great peacemaker and he had the ability to work with all of the sides on an issue."

In listing what he considered Watson's biggest accomplishments, Schumm pointed to the redevelopment of the riverfront as one of Watson's proudest accomplishments. That redevelopment started with plans unveiled in the mid-1970s for construction of Lawrence's city hall at Sixth and Massachusetts and continue today with construction of the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza, just east of city hall.

"I know from visiting with him, he was so proud of that," Schumm said.

Watson also will leave a legacy for street improvements 15th, Kasold, Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive, among other.

GARY TOEBBEN, president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said he learned of Watson's death early this morning and was shaken by the news. His voice broke as he spoke.

"He was a real builder. He loved this community a lot. For 19 years he led the way in city government," Toebben said. "There's no doubt that Lawrence is a finer place today because of Buford Watson. He had courage, he had vision and he cared. He's one of those people in the history of this city, it will be said, who made a difference."

Mike Wildgen, Watson's assistant for 15 years, said he not only lost a dear friend, but an internationally respected city manager.

"To the city, he was a leader," Wildgen said. "He left a mark that can be seen by anybody walking down the street. He started when there were riots on the streets in the early '70s and he led the city through some tremendous growth."

Wildgen said Watson would have been most pleased by the staff development at city hall and by his ability to carry out the commission's decisions.

"I DON'T think he ever said he was responsible for this or that," Wildgen said. "It was always with the commission, with city staff, with the community, with whoever was involved in a particular project."

GERALD COOLEY, whose law firm has represented the city during Watson's tenure, was also Watson's neighbor and close friend.

"I've been associated with him professionally and as a friend since his first days here in January 1970," Cooley said.

Cooley recalled those early days of Watson's tenure, days that were filled with tension and violence on the Kansas University campus.

"Buford came here during some trying times with the city. We were having a lot of social problems that were being responded to by a number of groups . . . He did an outstanding jobs for us as citizens. He was a genuinely concerned person."

Watson's son, Mark, said: "We're all going to miss him. We're just getting calls today from city managers from all over the country and all over the world.

"He always set an example for me," said Watson, who is a city manager himself in Grapevine, Tex. "He'd always encourage me to stick through the tough times in city government."

Watson said the family decided to establish a scholarship fund for a student who wants to become a city manager "and pass that legacy on."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.