Walter “Wally” G. Watts, age 75 passed away on Monday, April 22, 2019 in Los Alamos, NM.
A Celebration of Wally’s life will be held on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 at 11 AM at the Unitarian Church of Los Alamos, 1738 North Sage Street, Los Alamos, NM 87544. A reception will follow at the church.
In Memoriam donations will be sent to the auto mechanics department in a nearby town. Information will be provided as soon as it is set it up.
Wally’s life was about surviving, loving his family, and dreaming up projects that fixed things, often in unusual, out-of-the-box ways that had a way of working. His first challenge came when he accidentally drank some carbon tetrachloride, a chemical that someone had left in his drinking cup. His life was saved by the quick thinking of his father, an innovative doctor, and the copious amounts of water his mother urged on him. Still, his liver was damaged and would form the narrative for the end of his life. Expected to live for two weeks, he managed to create what one doctor at MD Anderson observed was seventy years of a rich life.
His young life included roaming the desert around Boulder City, Nevada, his home town, scooping up critters such as Gila monsters in glass jars. At first, he explored on foot but by sixteen years of age, he was fixing up old cars and “desert bombing,” often at night.
While attending the University of Nevada at Reno, he met his wife Sue on an airplane flight home. Their favorite dates included dancing in the moonlight and driving through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in an aging truck with a slipping clutch. After graduation, he married Sue and joined General Electric in Rome, Georgia, where he designed transformers. Life there centered around their two children, Elizabeth and David, and two teenagers who came to live with them, Steve and JoAnn Holt. He became a Boy Scout leader to a group of boys from an underprivileged community and kept the air conditioning running in a small Methodist church.
In 1979, Wally was offered the perfect job that fit his talents for identifying and fixing electric problems on an industrial scale. In Birmingham, Alabama, he became well-known for his quick and innovative solutions, as well as his ability to plan maintenance outages involving a hundred engineers. During the time in Birmingham, the family enjoyed taking many road trips in a variety of unusual motor homes. He continued his work with Boy Scouts.
In 1995, General Electric offered Wally the position of area engineer for the Las Vegas, Nevada, area, and Wally and Sue moved back to Boulder City. After retiring, he joined a group that helped older folks deal with household maintenance issues. After the death of Sue’s mother, who shared a love of ice cream with Wally, Sue and Wally moved to Los Alamos to be near their daughter’s family, growing to include grandchildren Alexander and Kathryn. Wally and Sue enjoyed becoming an active part of their new community.
The road trips began in earnest: months traveling through northwest Canada and the United States, puttering along the canals of western England and Wales, visiting family and friends in the Southeast. They had two camping vehicles, one a venerable old motor home that could achieve 28 miles to the gallon and one a pickup camper that could handle the rough stuff. Wally was secretly delighted when something didn’t work, for it was a chance to fix things. His final huge community project organizing a group of volunteers to move the Unitarian church operations to temporary quarters and back to the new building. He took pleasure in helping develop their natural play lot.
The next year, Wally was diagnosed with liver cancer, the result of the carbon tet episode. He hoped for one more good year and with the help of the radiation oncology unit at MD Anderson in Houston, he had that year. A month-long stint with the proton therapy unit cleared his liver of tumors, so he and Sue embarked on a final two-month road trip in his beloved Vixen motor home to the Northeast to see the fall colors. It was like old times, just the two adventurers on the road, a perfect way to celebrate 51 wonderful years of marriage. By December, the tumors were back and this time there would be no more radiation. A course of chemo did not go well and he succumbed to the effects a dying liver has upon the body.
But the Old Engineer was not done yet. His will to keep on living was phenomenal. He fought back from ICU, beating out pneumonia, and was transferred to Aspen Ridge, a local assisted living home. There, he embarked on his last big project. Against medical advice, he began using his mother’s old remedy…drinking water. From there, he followed a checklist he had set for himself…food, bed exercise, wheelchair, walker, cane. When he became delusional from the side effects of a drug he was taking, he took himself off of it and a week before his death, he passed a mental status test and began to plan his final, final project…planning and orchestrating a move to another room. He died the morning of the planned move with his feet on the floor and a smile on his face. He died as he had lived…looking forward to the next project.