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Former Navy journalist Fred Watson dies

Fred Watson served in the Navy in Vietnam  - Contributed Photo
Fred Watson served in the Navy in Vietnam
— image credit: Contributed Photo

Fred Miles Watson, a former Navy broadcaster and journalist who went on to have a career in newspapers, has died.

Watson, 62, died May 16, at Belmont Rehabilitation Center in Bremerton from lung complications following heart surgery. Watson was a reporter and editor with a number of Navy publications in Kitsap County. He wrote for Sound Publishing from 1994 to January of 2010.

For much of the time he was reporting on the Navy in Kitsap County, John Olson was his editor. Olson said Watson was one of the most dependable people he ever met.

“We worked side-by-side every day,” Olson said. “And when I gave Fred a story to do, I knew he’d come back with a good one, on deadline and in great form. He was solid as a rock. He never missed a deadline.”

Olson said Watson loved the Navy and he loved covering the Navy. Watson had been a broadcaster and reporter while in the Navy and served 20 years. Following that he settled in the Kitsap area and went to work for independent newspapers, including those published by Sound Publishing.

“It was a bit different,” Olson said. “We weren’t just publishing what the Navy wanted people to know. We were publishing whatever was going on with the Navy. We weren’t out to get the Navy, but Fred didn’t ever shy away from telling what was out there.”

One of Watson’s biggest projects was a special section to honor the USS Missouri, the ship where the declaration was signed that ended Word War II, when it left Bremerton for Hawaii where it became a monument and museum to World War II.

“We had this idea to do a special publication,” Olson said. “We worked so hard to interview just about everyone who was a part of that ship. And we nailed it. We knew we had something great.”

When they decided to print 10,000 copies, the Navy worried that people at the celebration would just drop the papers on the ground. So they made Olson and Watson hire students to pick up any dropped papers so they wouldn’t blow around the base.

“We did, we hired students,” he said. “But in the end, not a single paper was dropped.”

Olson said Watson also was named Navy Broadcaster of the Year when his Navy radio show hit 1 million listeners.

“It was based out of Tokyo,” Olson said. “He had lots of young Japanese listeners because they wanted to learn English.”

And his radio voice was something, Olson said.

“It was an amazing transformation from ‘Fred’ to ‘Radio Fred,’” he said. “We used to ask him to give us his radio voice all the time in the newsroom.”

That voice came in handy for other things too. Watson was known around Kitsap County for emceeing events, including the Armed Forced Day Parade in Bremerton. He also was the voice of the Animal Krackers fundraiser and the pet walk for the Kitsap Humane Society.

Kassie Olmsted, who worked with Watson at Sound Publishing, said Watson was recruited for emceeing events when she went to work for the humane society.

“He had the most amazing announcing voice,” she said. “You could tell he came from radio.”

Olmsted called Watson a “guy with a big heart.”

“He was the funniest guy you’d ever meet,” she said. “And he had all these sayings. We called them ‘Fredisms.’”

Most of them, however, weren’t proper for print, she said. She also recalled that he was known for his little smokies and lemon squares.

“He always brought those to our potlucks at the paper,” she said. She was editor of the Central Kitsap Reporter and Bremerton Patriot at the time that Watson worked out of the Silverdale location on Sound Publishing Navy newspapers.

Sean Hughes, public affairs officer for Navy Region Northwest, said he worked with Watson for a couple of years.

“By the time I arrived at Navy Region Northwest headquarters at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in 2007, Fred was already a Navy, as well as local journalism and publishing legend,” Hughes said. “I had the privilege of working with him for a couple years as part of our contract with Sound Publishing in production of the Navy’s newspaper, ‘The Northwest Navigator.’

“The breadth of the journalism world was second-nature to Fred, and he had a golden voice for broadcast journalism, too.  He was a preeminent technical expert with a kind, helping heart. Everyone on our staff considered Fred part of our Navy family, which he was by every measure.”

Hughes said in his post-Sound Publishing career, Watson returned to his Navy roots in the Public Affairs Office at Naval Undersea Warfare Center - Keyport.

“He had ‘sea stories’ that could rival the best,” Hughes said.  “Fred was a wonderful man and a great Navy storyteller. We lost a legend.”

He is survived by his wife, Diane, who was a Kitsap County Sheriff’s support services specialist for 21 years.

Diane called Fred “Freddie,” and was married to him for 30 years. She said he was most proud of his broadcasting.

“That was his life,” she said. “He was good at writing, but broadcasting was his thing.”

Fred served in Vietnam which is where he began his broadcasting work. He also served in public affairs positions for the Navy. After the Navy, he did a lot of volunteering with his voice, she said, noting the Armed Forces Day Parade, Relay for Life and Animal Krackers.

“Freddie did a lot of paying it forward,” she said.

Scott Wilson, public information officer for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office remembered Watson as reliable. Prior to joining the sheriff’s office, Wilson served as the public affairs officer for Naval Submarine Base Bangor and Submarine Group 9.

“Fred was one of my ‘go to’ guys and was a huge assist with organizing and conducting tours,” Wilson said.  “And … being a Navy journalist, that allowed me to also utilize Fred in his more formalized capacity, writing for the base newspaper, the “Trident Tides.”

“I came to count on Fred for many things and he never let me down.”

 

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