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Catherine Bea (“Kit”) Watts Obituary

Catherine Bea

December 5, 1943-November 15, 2023

Catherine Bea (“Kit”) Watts was born to Carl B. and Lois May (Shepherdson) Watts in Topeka, Kansas, on December 5, 1943. The family lived in the Midwest until the summer of 1955 when Kit, younger brother Howard and their parents sailed for Yokohama, where her parents served as Seventh-day Adventist missionaries in Japan and Okinawa for the next 18 years.

Kit completed her secondary education at Far Eastern Academy in Singapore in 1961 and enrolled at Union College in Lincoln, NE, that fall. In 1966 she graduated with a BA in religion and physical education and minors in education and English.

That fall Kit stepped aboard a Greyhound bus and headed for Walla Walla, WA. For the next 2.5 years she took journalism classes at Walla Walla College. The summer of 1969 Kit assisted Roberta J. Moore, her major professor, with research for her doctoral dissertation on religious journalism in the U.S., colonial times to the Civil War. Kit fell in love with both American and church history as they researched libraries and church archives.

At the end of that summer Kit began her first full-time job as an editorial assistant at the Bureau of Public Relations at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC) in Takoma Park, MD. Her next job was assistant book editor at the Review and Herald Publishing Association, just across the sidewalk from the GC.

Kit became the first woman on the pastoral staff of Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, MD, in 1973, where she served for 5.5 years as minister of publications. She spearheaded innovative programs such as the Thanksgiving Festival of Praise and special Christmas and Easter events. She wrote, edited, and published a lively monthly newsletter, Sligoscope.

Even as the youngest member of the Sligo team, she managed to magnify her views about gender inclusiveness. In 1973 she was invited to participate in the seminal Camp Mohaven Council on the Role of Women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and presented a 57-page paper for that august assembly. (During her professional lifetime, she was the only invitee to participate in all of the church’s major committees and councils on the role of women.) While working at Sligo, she also studied library and information science at the University of Maryland and earned a master’s degree in 1978.

Before fall semester 1978 Kit pulled a trailer to Berrien Springs, MI, and enrolled in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University (AU), a dream deferred nearly a decade. She began classwork for a second master’s degree, and within a few months split her time between studies and working as periodicals librarian at the James White Library and assistant professor at AU. During this time, Kit and Penny Shell pooled their financial resources and bought a house where they lived for several years along with Kit’s beloved cocker spaniel, Alpha.

Kit was not a charter member of the Association of Adventist Women (AAW)—she was living in Berrien Springs, MI, when the organization was birthed in Takoma Park, MD. But she was an early and enthusiastic member and was deeply involved in writing and production for The Adventist Woman. Through its articles, editorials, and photos the quarterly newsletter recorded the challenges and successes as Adventist women reached for equality. In 1992 Kit was selected as a Woman of the Year and honored at the annual conference, held in Orlando, FL. (She attended 23 consecutive conferences of the organization.)

Kit became well known throughout the Adventist Church when she served for nearly a decade as assistant editor of the Adventist Review. She wrote on a variety of topics in the weekly magazine, but her focus was always widening the circle of acceptance for all peoples. She coordinated four special issues of the magazine featuring topics of concern to women.

Once again in 1997 Kit packed up her household goods and moved from Takoma Park. She accepted a dual role as founding director of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) at La Sierra University, Riverside, CA, and in the Southeastern California Conference as assistant to the president for communication. At the WRC she had freedom to create programming and resources not only to challenge the thinking of university women (and men) but also to support women in ministry throughout the North American Division.

When Kit retired in 2007 she moved back to the Walla Walla Valley. Again, she and Penny Shell pooled their resources and bought a country home with two acres in Milton Freewater where they enjoyed being “Oregon ranchers.” Kit built raised garden beds and an enclosed area for feeding the birds—while keeping the squirrels and resident cats out. She fulfilled another dream when she adopted two burros, Lily and Chaco, who helped keep their enclosed pasture mowed. She traveled the Northwest. She bought and housed and read good books.

Cancer was the long shadow across Kit’s horizon for 15 years. She fought as long and as hard as she could. Just days before her death when her primary care physician was explaining hospice to her, she looked at him from her wheelchair with a dazzling smile. “I think she’s still happy,” said the amazed doctor. And she was.

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” 2 Timothy 4:7-8, KJV.

Kit is survived by her brother, Howard Watts, one nephew, Travis Watts, one niece, Kandice Watts, and a multitude of friends scattered across the continent.

Obituary written by Pat Benton, representing Kit Watts’ family & friends group.

Title Image: Kit Watts, courtesy the author.

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