EDITORIAL: Remembering Charlie Watson

Mar. 22, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

For more than 40 years, John Charles Watson walked up and down the streets of Sanford selling copies of The Herald. By the time he’d made his rounds for the last time, back in 1989, he was more than a fixture — he was as ever-present as the depot, the train and the old Railroad House.

Charlie wasn’t just seen as one of Sanford’s “characters.” He was immortalized as one.

Charlie Watson Lane was first dedicated in the summer of 1988 on the occasion of Watson’s 80th birthday and commemorated by a marker placed in an alleyway perpendicular to Steele Street. By that time, although Watson was still carrying his ubiquitous three-wheeled cart around downtown with copies of The Herald, age and his health had begun to betray him. The familiar bell that rang as he walked his route fell silent a year or so later, and by the following summer, Watson had passed away.

A few days later, in a full-page tribute, he was remembered by former Herald photographer Jimmy Haire, who now serves on Sanford’s city council.

“Charlie Watson,” Haire wrote, “was a small man who left big footsteps and a long shadow. No one will be able to fill them, but there is plenty of room in that shadow.

“Most mortals stay in the shadow area and never fully escape,” Haire continued. “Charlie Watson overcame limitations and became exactly what he wanted to be.”

This week, in the kind of cold, drizzly day most of us hate to be out in but Watson never shied away from, Charlie Watson Lane was officially re-dedicated. The new Charlie Watson Lane street sign was unveiled as well to denote Steele Street as an official Benjamin Moore Main Street, in commemoration of the paint makeover downtown Sanford received this winter after Sanford was named one of 20 city winners in Benjamin Moore’s Main Street Matters competition.

Haire was there to help with the ceremony on Wednesday.

“If he were here today, and we had this bad weather, he’d say, ‘Don’t worry about it Jimmy, you got to take the bitter with the sweet,’ ” said Haire, whose friendship with Watson lasted some 30 years. “That was his motto.”

The rededication was a special moment for those of us at The Herald, but also for the life of downtown. Wednesday’s event in some ways could be seen as an unofficial kickoff of a plan to improve the aesthetics and appearance of the lane when downtown Sanford’s streetscape is improved through the $14.5 million bond referendums that city voters passed in November.

Downtown Sanford isn’t as vibrant or active as it was back in Watson’s day. Closed and boarded-up storefronts are something you didn’t see as much back then.

But then again, things can change. Not long after Watson’s death, an old friend of his was quoted as saying, “To me, Charlie Watson was as much a part of the makings of downtown Sanford as the Railroad House and the old depot … . To be downtown and not see Charlie … well, it leaves a kind of void feeling.”

This remembrance of Watson helps fill the void. The coming improvements will help, too.