Dorothy Elizabeth Watson
Dorothy Elizabeth Watson was born January 4, 1910 in Chicago, Illinois to Belle and James Lyle O’Neal. She was the third of eight children, all of whom preceded her in death. Her parents moved west seeking better educational opportunities for their children. This journey into the West would take more than seven years and included a stay in Oklahoma, where three of Dorothy’s siblings were born. After arriving in California, her parents moved the family to Watts so that they could farm. By the age of seven, Dorothy helped her father sell vegetables off the back of his truck. Dorothy graduated from Compton High School and shortly afterwards the family moved from Watts back to the Central Los Angeles area, where her younger siblings graduated from Jefferson High School.
Unable to adapt to the climate in Los Angeles because of an asthmatic condition, Mr. O’Neal traveled to Phoenix, Arizona where other relatives lived. Once his health improved, he rejoined his family in Los Angeles, only to succumb to an attack of asthma within two weeks.
After his death, Belle, a surgical nurse at Los Angeles General Hospital, left Dorothy in charge of the household, including the care of her brothers and sisters.
Strongly motivated to pursue higher education, Dorothy would enroll in Los Angeles City College (LACC) as soon as it opened, being issued Admission slip #1003 as the third student to enroll. She joined the Ivy Leaf Club hoping to become an Alpha Kappa Alpha Soror, following in the footsteps of her older sister Juanita Rabuion, founder of the Alpha Gamma Chapter of AKA at UCLA.
However, she met a tall handsome dandy from Kansas City, named Bill Watson, whom she would marry shortly before he became one of the first African American police officers in the Los Angeles Police Department. This union produced four children: Barbara, Diane, Billy, and Patsy.
Dorothy accepted Christ at an early age. Her father helped organize Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where she sang as a member of the choir for years. Not only did she have a beautiful voice but she became a featured actress at the Mayan Theater in Downtown Los Angeles and performed with the Hall Johnson Theater Group. She and her sisters would recite the famous poems of John Paul Dunbar at the San Francisco World Fair in the 1930’s. While expecting her first child in the Los Angeles County Hospital in 1932, Olympic officials came through and announced that all the mothers-to-be would receive tickets to the Olympics; and baby Barbara was born in time to attend along with her mother.
As a single mother during World War II, Dorothy went to work as a postal clerk at Terminal Annex for the U.S. Post Office, in which service she remained for the next 34 years. She put all of her children through college; and even returned to graduate form LACC with her youngest daughter, Patsy, in 1958. Along with Barbara and Diane, she built a 10-unit garden apartment building where the family lived until moving to their respective homes. In the late 1990’s, Dorothy, long retired, would move into the home of her daughter Diane where her sister Pauline joined her, for the duration of her life.
Dorothy, deeply committed to the Methodist faith, helped found Holman United Methodist Church in the living room of the Griggs family, remaining active so long as her health permitted. As a faithful member of the Stovall Foundation, she presided over their Cotillions, souvenir booklets and membership drives. She also became a docent at City Hall under former Mayors Tom Bradley and Richard Riordan. In full support of her AKA daughters, she belonged to Las Madrinas and often sang in the AKA/Delta Joint Choir.
She went on cruises and traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa, Bermuda, and Mainland China; swearing-in, Dorothy held the Bible, and with her was President Clinton’s brother Roger, who immediately adopted her as his surrogate mom after the death of his own beloved mother.
In her family was Fannie Williams, who was a close friend to Della Williams the famous architect’s wife, and both started the Wilfandel House, joining their two names.
Mother Dorothy was always at the side of her children and took part in many family celebrations. She was so proud of their many accomplishments and achievements.
In January 2010, she celebrated her 100th birthday in grand style surrounded by her children, grands, great-grands, great-great grands along with many family members and loving friends.
Dorothy Elizabeth Watson passed peacefully early Sunday morning, July 25, 2010 at the Bella Vista Hospital in Pasadena, California. Her oldest daughter, Barbara Coleman in 1994, preceded her in death. Her full and rich life will be remembered by her remaining three children, Congresswoman Diane E. Watson, William “Billy Boy” Watson, and Patricia “Patsy” Bradfield; two step-daughters; Rylonna and Wylene, grandchildren; William, Ryan, Cesiley, Calysta, Niles, Alexys, Chartera, Irys, Mallory, Kim, Lynn, Bradford, Sharrolan, Christalyn; and great grand children, great-great grandchildren, cousins, nieces, nephews and many beloved friends.