Leap year baby

I have known exactly one person born on Feb. 29. William A. Watson, Sr., founding editor of The Sunday Dispatch.
Mr. (which was all we ever called him) Watson was born on Feb. 29, 1912. When he turned 64 on Feb. 29, 1976, he joked that he was 64 years old but celebrating only his 16th birthday.
He never had another one. Mr. Watson died a year later.
I spent roughly 10 years under his tutelage, although he was rarely around during the last few years of his life. During those first seven or eight, however, he taught me a ton about this business. And by “this business,” I mean community journalism.
“Names sell newspapers,” he’d say, and then add, “if you don’t believe me, run a list of people in the paper, let’s say ‘the doctors of Greater Pittston’ and leave one out. The guy will be at your door first thing in the morning.”
Continuing with his point, Mr. Watson would say, “Do you know how many people when they get their new phone book look up their own name?”
He also had a thing about taking care of “little people.” The Dispatch published birthday photos of children. Mr. Watson always stressed that to the mom who dropped off a photo of her child, seeing that picture in the paper was more important than an article about “a triple murder” (his words.)
Mr. Watson was a rare combination of softness and toughness. He once got into a scuffle with a football coach after he wrote something about the coach using his players as pawns in a teacher strike. A phone call with the coach grew more and more testy to the point where the coach told Mr. Watson he’d be hearing from his lawyer. “Good,” Mr. Watson said. “If there’s one thing I fear less that football coaches, it’s lawyers.”
I took up tennis in the summer of ’71 and did not even think Mr. Watson noticed. But when fall began to turn into winter, he called me into his office and said I would probably want to play indoor tennis during winter and that was going to be expensive. So he gave me a raise.
That February, he celebrated his 15th birthday.

Ed Ackerman