Geraldine Ellis Watson

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Geraldine Ellis Watson: Legacy, Steward, and Daughter of the Great State of Texas, passed from the flora and fauna she loved so dearly into the Heavens on Friday, April 6, 2012. She was born February 8, 1925, in Bon Ami, Louisiana, to Herbert Guy Ellis and Retha Goznell Ellis. Her children, sons, Marvin E. Watson of Austin, Texas, Bobby L. Watson of Reno, Nevada; daughters, Retha Regina Watson of Austin, Texas, and Maria Eden Williams of Silsbee, Texas, survive her. Her son, David Watson and her husband, Earl P. Watson, preceded her in death. She had four grandchildren, six great grandchildren, loving nieces, nephews, and influenced the lives of millions. The Ellis family migrated into the virgin forests of South East Texas, as Herbert worked for the timber companies and railroads of the various sawmill towns that sprouted in the region. It was here, as a child, that she began to nurture her life's work and explore the same creeks and forests of South East Texas, that she later helped save for future generations. Some of her earlier nemeses later became her most admired and endeared friends, as they watched corporate America take over the destruction of thousands of acres of magnificent hardwood forests to become computer enhanced pine tree farms. This initiated her activism and involvement with a large number of environmental causes, as her studies became background for legions of authors, journalists, and historians who wrote about The Big Thicket. She guided field trips for The National Park Service study groups, expeditions by government leaders such as then Senator George H. W. Bush (later President Bush), Senator Ralph Yarborough, Congressman Bob Eckhart, and Charlie Wilson for appropriations committee considerations, as well as the local high school or college science class. She gave testimony before congressional hearings, which led to the preservation of the forests by the development of The Big Thicket National Preserve and her work for the National Park Service as a botanist. She always cared most for the local people and the culture that made this part of the world not only unique, but also special to her and her family. Her goal, was to show the hand of God belongs in the magnificent beauty of our world. In 1964, she was on the founding board of directors of the Big Thicket Association. She spoke to civic groups, garden clubs, and professional societies across Texas. She was a critical part of the effort to establish the National Preserve. In 1974, she acquired properties near Warren, Texas, where she and her family managed her own sanctuary, The Watson Long Leaf Pine Preserve, which slopes down from the long leaf pines to pitcher plants and orange fringed orchids in a natural bog ecosystem. She was also a very talented artist and here she painted pictures about the Good ol' Days. Her most recent are as good as her first, painting until she couldn't hold a brush. The paintings of her family, the places they loved to fish, picnic, and swim, the birds and flowers of the area are another tale of a lifetime of raising a family in South East Texas. Geraldine authored books about the wildflowers and plants of Texas, as well as contributing extensively to two other major works of botany and flora of Texas, authored by other botanist. Her book, Big Thicket Plant Ecology, is now in it's third edition. She loved educating others, as much as finding a rare orchid. Her recent book, Reflections on the Neches, is peaceful reading, an actual escape from the modern world she despised. Because of her tireless efforts, Geraldine is one of the 62 Texas Conservationist profiled in The Texas Legacy Project. There will be a private service on her preserve, and the family asks that in lieu of flowers, please make a contribution to any BBVA Compass Bank, account # 2522256016, as a memorial contribution to help the family with continued management of the preserve.

Published in The Beaumont Enterprise on Apr. 15, 2012
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