Ray Watten, age 91
Dr. Raymond Henry Watten, Captain, Medical Corps, U.S. Navy, Retired, was born in Minnesota on Aug. 20, 1922, the sixth of seven children. His parents, Henrik and Berit Utnes Watten, emigrated from Norway in about 1900. Ray’s natural intelligence and curiosity led him on a circuitous route to a career in tropical medicine research.
Ray married Jeanne Alderton in August, 1946, in Minneapolis. He graduated from Stanford Medical School in June of 1949. During the Korean War, in December 1950, Ray was given five days to pack for Japan, leaving his wife and their first two children behind in Palo Alto.
In Japan, he ran a ward for wounded soldiers who were arriving by the hundreds every day from Korea, suffering from frostbite and gangrene. In March, 1952, he was reunited with his young family who arrived by ship.
In June 1953, they returned to the States. Ray went to work in the Naval Hospital in Oakland, California (Oak Knoll), until his next posting in July, 1957. By then there were three children. They moved to Taiwan where he worked at the Navy Medical Research Unit (NAMRU). Their fourth child was born in Taiwan. In 1960, they moved back to Oakland and Ray returned to Oak Knoll. Their youngest child was born there. In 1965, the family was reposted to Taiwan until 1974.
Ray and Jeanne divorced and in 1976 he married Judy Rebbeck Davis. She and her children moved to Ethiopia with him; in six short months they were evacuated due to the Ethiopian civil war. The Navy sent them next to Egypt where he retired from the Navy in 1982. Not ready for retirement, Ray became the Director of Gorgas Memorial Laboratory in Panama City, Panama. After five years, he retired for a second and final time and returned to the States where he and Judy settled in Kenwood.
In Kenwood, Ray had time to pursue his many interests, pottery foremost among them. He and Judy, also a potter, enjoyed working in their studio and participated in ARTrails. His other interests included creating bonsai, collecting orchids, gardening and canning the harvest, glaze chemistry, sausage making, and cooking gourmet meals – most notably a Chinese Lunar New Year banquet every year for his family. He visited many countries in his career. He and Judy also traveled, including twice to Norway to spend time with his parents’ families. They visited China three times, as well as England, Scotland, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Bali, Poland, Honduras, Guatemala, and Japan among other countries. Ray read the New Yorker Magazine from cover to cover for more than 50 years. He was an avid 49ers fan.
Ray was the Commanding Officer of NAMRU in Taiwan, in DaNang, Vietnam (which he founded), in Ethiopia, and in Egypt, where he was honored to receive an award from President Sadat. His research encompassed malaria, cholera, Rift Valley fever, tick-borne diseases, schistosomiasis, parasitic and other infectious diseases. He is known as the inventor of the Watten-cot, still in use wherever cholera rages.
Ray never quite recovered from a long bout with MRSA in 2010. On his 91st birthday, he had a serious fall and was hospitalized at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital where he passed away on Aug. 23. His wife Judy, his daughters Christine (Tim Hill), Jan, Shelley (Patrick Hanan), and Barbara (Red Pappas) were by his side. He is also survived by his son Barry (Carla Harryman) in Michigan, his stepdaughters Laurie (Mark Milodragovich) and Susan (Julia Froese), his five grandchildren: Asa, Emilie, Erik, Ian and Ursula, and Judy’s grandchildren: John, Henry and Lucy. Sadly, he was predeceased by all his siblings.
Services are Saturday, Sept. 7, 3 p.m., at Daniels Chapel of the Roses, 1225 Sonoma Avenue, Santa Rosa 95402, 525-3730. All are welcome.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Doctors Without Borders or your favorite charity.