Emmett Watson (November 22, 1918 – May 11, 2001) was a newspaper columnist in Seattle, Washington whose columns ran in a number of Seattle newspapers over a span of more than fifty years. Initially a sportswriter, he is primarily known for authoring a social commentary column for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) from 1956 until 1982, when he moved to The Seattle Times and continued as a columnist until shortly before his death in 2001.
Watson, who grew up in Seattle in the 1920s and 1930s, was a tireless advocate, through his column as well as through a fictional organization he created called Lesser Seattle, for limiting the seemingly unbridled growth and urban renewal that dramatically altered the Seattle landscape during the latter half of the twentieth century.
Emmett and his twin brother Clement were born on November 22, 1918, the sons of Garfield and Lena McWhirt. Emmett's mother and twin brother died of Spanish Influenza the following year and his father, an itinerant laborer unable to care for his son, arranged for Emmett's adoption by long-time friends John and Elizabeth Watson of West Seattle.
Watson suffered an ear infection as a child that permanently damaged his hearing. He first attended high school in West Seattle before transferring to Franklin High School, where as a catcher he played baseball with future major league pitcher Fred Hutchinson. Emmett graduated from Franklin High School in 1937.
He continued his baseball career with the University of Washington Huskies, and then played very briefly with the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League, amassing one hit in a total of two at-bats. He often blamed his lack of success in professional baseball on his inability to hit a curveball. After leaving baseball, Watson worked in the Seattle-Tacoma Shipyard during World War II.
During World War II, Emmett, along with some friends, produced a newsletter to send to baseball players serving in the military.
The newsletter brought him to the attention of an editor at the Seattle Star (a now defunct daily newspaper) where Watson was hired to cover the Rainiers in 1944. It was while working at the Star that Watson contracted polio.
In 1946, The Seattle Times lured him away from the Star. At the Times, Watson continued to cover sports until 1950 when he received an offer from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that The Seattle Times chose not to match. Watson initially wrote a sports column at the P-I. In 1956 when the P-I was pitched the idea of an "Around the Town" column by a group of restaurant owners who offered to partially underwrite the costs of producing the column in exchange for an occasional plug. The new column, "This, Our Town," was assigned to Watson.
Watson's new column quickly broadened its scope to cover all aspects of life in Seattle. In 1959 it was rechristened "This, Our City. By 1962, the column, primarily a "three dot" compilation of short items, was running five days a week. When a particular issue caught his attention, Watson would produce a longer, essay-style column. It was these essay-style columns that provided most of the fodder for his 1993 book, My Life in Print.
In his column, as in his life, Watson was an early champion of civil rights, social reform, and the anti-war movement. He denounced urban renewal plans aimed at flattening Pioneer Square and radically altering Seattle's Pike Place Public Market. He was the founder and leader of "Lesser Seattle," a parody of Greater Seattle, Inc., which advocated several schemes for Seattle's civic improvement and development that Watson considered ill-advised. Feeling that the influx of outsiders, primarily from California, was ruining the city, Watson often published tongue-in-cheek columns suggesting ways to make visitors to Seattle feel unwelcome. He also invented a fictional organization called Keep the Bastards Out (KBO) that fought against the influx of newcomers to the Puget Sound area from out of state.
Emmett Watson received international notoriety in 1961 when he broke the story of novelist Ernest Hemingway's suicide, which had initially been incorrectly reported by Hemingway's wife as an accidental shooting.
Watson and long-time friend U.S. District Judge Bill Dwyer were ringleaders in the anti-trust suit against Major League Baseball when the Seattle Pilots were moved to Milwaukee after a single season in Seattle in 1969. It was the effectiveness of this action that proved to be instrumental in Seattle being awarded the Seattle Mariners Major League franchise in 1977.
In the early 1980s Watson left the P-I after he believed he was treated unfairly by a new editor, although he still contributed to the paper as a freelancer. Watson's criticisms of then Mariners owner George Argyros eventually led to the P-I reducing the frequency of his column. Watson remembered, "I picked up the paper and saw the column wasn't in there. The managing editor called and said he was thinking of cutting me back to one column a week. I said maybe we should make it zero columns a week." On October 30, 1983, after a stretch of more than three decades, Watson's column appeared once again in The Seattle Times.
At The Seattle Times Watson continued to write his column in the style that had made him a well-known fixture of Seattle journalism. As was his custom, he continued to skewer the rich and powerful in his columns, always fighting against the kind of development and modernization that he felt was destroying the city he knew and loved. Over the years the tone in his columns softened somewhat and they often consisted of his reminisces of "Old Seattle." In November of 2000, when his union, The Newspaper Guild, went on strike against The Seattle Times, Watson, then in his eighties, made regular, daily appearances on the picket lines. During the strike he wrote for the Seattle Union Record, the strike paper of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild.
Watson was called "one of the greats" by contemporaries Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle and Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News and he considered himself a protégé of Caen's. He wrote four books (including My Life in Print) and received the Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists' Western Washington Chapter in 1998.