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Georgette Watson, 64; activist helped clean up Boston's streets

By Jeannie Nuss
Globe Correspondent / September 7, 2008
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Georgette Watson and Pastor Bruce H. Wall moved into the Lenox Street housing development in Dorchester for a week in the early 1980s, one of Mrs. Watson's many efforts to clean Boston streets that were stained by crime.

"She wasn't scared to go in any neighborhood. She got a lot of respect for that," said her son, Isaac Trappiel III of Dorchester. "She was a crime-fighter. She just believed in doing the right thing, trying to stop what was going wrong at the time."

Mrs. Watson, a respected Boston antidrug activist and cofounder of anticrime hotline Drop-a-Dime, died Aug. 29 in Baltimore from complications of pneumonia and kidney disease. She was 64.

Mrs. Watson was born and raised in Philadelphia. She moved from Philadelphia to New York, and later to Dorchester.

In Dorchester, she raised three children as a single mother and attended the University of Massachusetts at Boston, where she earned a bachelor's degree in legal education and a paralegal certificate.

She later received a master's degree in education from Antioch University in Cambridge.

In 1983, Mrs. Watson and Wall cofounded Drop-a-Dime, which passed on confidential tips from residents to Boston police. The tip line provided information that led to hundreds of arrests.

"She and I cofounded Drop-a-Dime, and together we tried to help the neighbors fight back," said Wall, pastor of Global Ministries Christian Church in Dorchester. "She was my hero."

Drop-a-Dime received more than 600 calls a month with information that led to the arrests of drug dealers and helped clean up the streets of Boston, Wall said.

"She was like a Harriet Tubman who was willing to stand up again and again," Wall said.

Mrs. Watson was "a woman of courage who finally said, 'I'm mad as heck and I'm not going to take it anymore,' " Wall said. "She wanted to protect her children and the children of the city."

Wall described her as a "playful but no-nonsense" woman who had "unbelievable compassion for people who were hurting."

Wall has asked Boston City Council to declare tomorrow "Georgette Watson Day" to honor the woman he called "an everyday person who wanted to stop the crime" but a decision had not been made.

He said it is important for Boston's population, especially youths, to remember that the city streets are safer because of the work of Mrs. Watson.

Her Drop-a-Dime program received national acclaim, and William F. Weld, former governor, appointed her the "antidrug czar of the state," Wall said.

In 1991, Mrs. Watson was appointed to head the Governor's Alliance Against Drugs, a post she held for five years. That year, she also received an honorary doctorate from Emmanuel College.

Five years after Weld appointed her to head the Alliance Against Drugs, she was fired when a state audit raised questions about mismanagement and misuse of funds. Mrs. Watson then sued the state, alleging racial discrimination, but nothing resulted from the lawsuit. She left the controversy behind her and moved to Maryland.

In Baltimore, her activism led to a job addressing quality-improvement issues for people with disabilities for the Maryland Transit Administration.

She also worked at Baltimore City Community College as an adjunct professor for two years.

When Mrs. Watson moved to Baltimore, she had several health problems, including breast cancer and later kidney problems, said James O'Connor, her husband of 28 years.

"She had to get dialysis and the MTA, they weren't picking her up on time for her appointments," O'Connor said. "So she sat down and grabbed a pen and started writing letters and writing letters. And next thing they called her up and said, 'How 'bout a job?' "

"She got a good job," O'Connor said. "And I like to think that more people made it to their dialysis appointments because of it."

"Her list of awards goes on," O'Connor said. "If I had one of her real resumes, we'd be here for about 20 years."

She was also honored by many for her volunteer work, including Essence Magazine presented her with an award for social service in 1987.

"Somebody else might say, 'Oh, to heck with it, we're not fighting City Hall.' Not Georgette," said O'Connor.

"She was a wonderful, generous person that decided to do something," O'Connor said. "She was a doer. When she got it in her craw to do something, nothing stopped her. She wanted to accomplish her goals. She tried to accomplish something every day. She was a go-getter. No two ways about it."

"She maybe accomplished half of what she set out to do," O'Connor said. "But that's about 15 times what most people accomplish."

"She was always full of energy, very magnetic" her son, Isaac, of Dorchester, said. "If you knew her, you'd be stuck on her. She affected a lot of people's lives."

At a small ceremony in Maryland, Trappeil said he was amazed at how many people came to show support.

"She's been down there for about 11 years, and it's amazing to see how many people came," he said. "And it's the same in Boston."

"For a little person, she stood about 8 feet tall," Trappeil said. Mrs. Watson stood about 4 feet 11 inches tall.

When she wasn't cleaning up city streets or fighting City Hall, Mrs. Watson also enjoyed cooking and baking, O'Connor said.

In addition to her son and husband, Mrs. Watson leaves a daughter, Tonja Trappiel of Randallstown, Md.; her mother, Louise Dulin Johnson of Boston; three sisters, Barbara Powell and Terry Dulin, both of Boston, and Francie Dulin of Detroit; three brothers, Ernest Dulin, Andrew Dulin, and Corey Dulin, all of Boston; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Her daughter Rochelle Trappiel died from breast cancer several years ago.

A memorial service will be held tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. at the Global Ministries Church in Dorchester. Mrs. Watson was cremated.

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