Richard Allan Watson

February 23, 1931 - September 18, 2019 

Richard Allan Watson

February 23, 1931 - September 18, 2019 

Obituary for Richard Allan Watson

Dr. Richard Allan Watson, known to his friends and colleagues as Red, died of natural causes on the morning of September 18, 2019, at the Newton Wellesley Center for Alzheimer’s Care. He was 88 years old.

Born at home in New Market, Iowa, he went on to travel the world with his wife, Patty Jo, who he met in middle school. They have one daughter, Anna.

Watson was an eclectic scholar whose contributions to several academic disciplines will have lasting significance. He is universally recognized as one of the leading scholars of 17th century French philosophy and published a penetrating biography entitled Cogito, Ergo Sum: The Life of Rene Descartes, which was based on the first extensive and new field work done on Descartes’s life since 1920, and was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the “25 Books to Remember from 2002.” Watson taught for most of his long career at Washington University in St. Louis, where he was known as a demanding, yet approachable teacher. Together with his wife (also a Washington University professor, in anthropology), he spent many, many happy hours underground. He was instrumental in transforming the "sport" of cave exploration into a recognized field of archaeology and geological science, and for over fifty years, as a member of the Cave Research Foundation, he explored Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave system, which is the longest cave in the world. His book, The Longest Cave, written with Roger W. Brucker, details some of these adventures. Along with his academic and caving work, he also wrote novels, including Niagra, a fictional account of the first person to ever cross the Falls on a wire and the first woman to go over the Falls in a barrel.

Watson also held a degree in geology, with a specialization in the paleoclimatology of 10,000 years ago, the time when agriculture was first invented in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. He spent time in the field with Patty Jo, whose specialization was in the origin of agriculture. Together, they inspired and supported many generations of graduate students.

Upon retiring, Red and Pat moved to Missoula, MT, where they lived in a passive solar earth house on the side of a mountain. More recently, they came back East to an assisted living facility near their daughter and her family in Arlington, MA.

Red used to say, “You can’t do everything!” but he certainly gave it his best shot during his long and wonderful life. His astute brain, his gruff-yet-loving kindness, his observant nature, and his Midwestern sense of humor will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Red is survived by his wife of 64 years, Patty Jo Watson, by his daughter Anna M. Watson and her wife Laurie L. Caldwell, by his two beloved grandsons, Riley K.S. Watson and Liam M.S. Watson. By his sister, Constance A. Moehle, his brother and sister-in-law James L. and Rubie Watson, and by many loving cousins and nephews and nieces as well as former students and colleagues and cavers.

Services will be held at DeVito Funeral Home, 1145 Massachusetts Ave. in Arlington on Friday, September 27, 2019 at 11am. In Red's memory, please consider making a donation to any local organization involved in alleviating food insecurity such as Boston Gleaners of Food For Free; or to the Cave Research Foundation.

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