OBITUARY: Watson loved blues music, cycling, the Georgia Bulldogs and his family
Benny Watson was proof that real toughness doesn't always look like an NFL football player or UFC fighter.
Watson became pretty frail and gray in the last few years, a result of the cancer that first attacked his body roughly 15 years ago. It got to the point where he could barely speak. Watson truly, truly never stopped living life after cancer, though, logging tens of thousands of miles on his bicycle and attending blues and rock concerts late into the night.
Watson passed away last Friday, one day after taking in a concert at the Georgia Theater in Athens and rocking out with one of his favorite bands, the Drive-By Truckers.
Watson loved blues music, cycling and the Georgia Bulldogs. It only seems right that Watson lived long enough to see the Georgia football team win one more national championship, which finally happened earlier this year. Most of all, however, Watson loved his family. He leaves behind his wife, Lori, two sons, Hunter and Michael, as well as his father, Ben Watson.
Watson and wife Lori, last summer.
Watson was one of the first people that Adam Heagy met when Heagy moved to Milledgeville in 2005. Heagy had recently lost his father to cancer, and Watson sort of became a father figure. Then, just two years later, Watson told Heagy and other members of the local cycling club that he had cancer.
"I just remember Benny getting us all together and basically saying, 'Hey, look. I've been diagnosed with cancer. But, not only am I going to beat cancer, I'm going to beat cancer's ass,’” said Heagy. "That's exactly what he did."
Not even radiation and chemotherapy could keep Watson away from his bicycle for too long. On his 53rd birthday, he rode 53 miles. There'd be follow-up treatments and surgeries on the scar tissue created by the chemo and radiation, but Watson never wanted anyone to ever feel sorry for him.
"He went though hell, but he never complained and never outwardly let it get him down," Heagy said. "He never felt sorry for himself. It was remarkable."
In a way, Watson lived out the quintessential Milledgeville American Dream. He grew up and graduated high school here (Baldwin High), he graduated from college here (Georgia College), and he made his career and retired here (Grumman Aerospace/Vought).
Watson and son Michael, years ago
Don Schanche, who was a newspaper editor in Milledgeville back in the 1980s and 1990s, struck up a friendship with Watson many years ago. Their common bond was blues music.
"Benny loved to listen and play blues music, and he knew a tremendous amount and was extremely knowledgeable about blues music. He and Lori would go over to the Blind Willie McTell Music Festival over Thomson every year," Schanche said. "He kept playing the harmonica until he physically could no longer do it."
Schanche, like many of Watson friends and acquaintances, are feeling a little down this week and still dealing with the news.
“Benny embodied many of the best characteristics of a southern man. He was very much a Georgian. He loved Georgia football," Schanche said. "Benny also embodied many of the best chararteristics of a human being. He was honest. He was funny, and he loved life and his family."
Visitation is set for Friday afternoon at Moores Funeral Home from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., with the service beginning immediately after. "In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to CREATE Cycling, createwithus.net or cycling donation page can be found by CLICKING HERE."