William N. Watrous, Bill, was a lucky man. Born in Downers Grove, Illinois, in 1928, he was the youngest of four children of Francis and Mary Louise Watrous. His siblings Fran, Betty, and Dick were constant companions in mischief.
Bill grew up in Westfield, N.J., with a brief adventure in Kentucky during the depression. For Bill, the depression memories were of fun and games, like playing hide and seek in the abandoned greyhound race track. He brought back to Westfield polite southern mannerisms like “yes Ma’am.” A post card photo captured him in knickers fishing. After the depression, Bill’s summers were spent at a cottage on Damariscotta Lake in Maine with his mom and his siblings, boating, building a tree fort on an island, fishing, and swimming. What a lucky boy Bill was.
As a teen, Bill worked at a grocery store, delivered groceries, and worked in a clothes store in Westfield. He liked Maine so much that he decided to stay there during his high school years, working on the Shady Lawn Jackson family farm in Lewiston. There he worked with the cows, helped deliver milk, and replace the barn roof. He survived crashing the hay truck on the farm, and escaped electrocution while working on equipment at the nearby Gulf Island Hydro Station. He was shooting tin cans in the hay loft window with his buddy, Albert, and a bullet took out the power line to Lewiston. It was Albert’s shot. What a lucky guy he was.
Bill enlisted in the Army for WWII. Bill was lucky to arrive in Japan after the end of the war. He had a short tour of duty in Japan. Instead of re-enlisting, which would have led him into the Korean conflict, he was lucky again. He returned to go to college on the G. I. Bill. The prankster graduated from the University of Maine at Orono.
His experience at the power company helped him land his first job after college as an electrical engineer in New York City. He lived in Westfield with his parents and commuted in to the city with his dad. That first job led to a long career at Weston Instruments in Newark, NJ, and then to Thomas Edison, Inc. When Thomas Edison, Inc. moved to New England, Bill decided to retire at the early age of 55. Bill enjoyed his engineering work, but by then, he had renovated several rental homes in his spare time, and was about to move into his dream home. Thomas Edison closed up shortly after, so once again, Bill was lucky.
Bill was lucky at love. On a lark, he joined the Plainfield Ski Club with his buddy. There, he met his future wife, Vera. Their marriage flourished for 51 years. After a brief stay with Vera’s parents, they bought a typical 50s suburban home in South Plainfield. They had three children, Robert, Nina, and Scott. Bill would teach them, by his example, to work hard and play harder. He snuck out at night to dye a giant Snoopy snowman different colors just to surprise us. He installed a swimming pool and often, arriving home from work, headed for the pool. Bill loved the water and partying. For many years, summer vacations were at the cottage that he, his father, and brother built on the shore of Damariscotta Lake in Maine.
Bill designed their dream house for a property in Watchung, NJ, where they created a woodland garden gem. They dammed a small stream to create two ponds. Bill and Vera were both active in the Watchung Garden Club. Their garden was featured in newspaper articles and tours. The pond was the scene of many skating events. Bill installed a rope swing so the kids could swing out over the pond and let go. Running around the pond playing hide and seek with his Sheltie, Wendy, was a frequent joy. The dam, one of the few places with sun, hosted a long perennial garden in front of a fence. Behind that, a cutting garden provided Vera with flowers for her many pressed flower and dried flower arrangements. Strolling the garden with friends once, they stopped on the bridge to admire the view. The bridge collapsed. All four landed in the pond with their drinks held high. How lucky can you get?
An active member of the Wilson Memorial Church, Bill volunteered, and then became Chairman of the Building and Grounds Committee and co-founder of the Fellowship Hall. Bill removed English Ivy from the stone chapel, and stewarded numerous projects, including the genesis and construction of the Memorial Garden. He reserved a plot in the garden for Vera and himself.
A do it yourself guy, Bill renovated several homes for rentals. Not knowing what he would have to do rarely stopped him from taking on a project. His optimism was often his greatest strength and weakness. Held up at gunpoint once, he was told to put up his hands. He did, grabbed the gun, and wrestled it away. What a lucky man.
In the 1970s, Vera and Bill created Vera’s Holiday Boutique. Vera created pressed and dried flower arrangements, while Bill worked on restoring antique frames, furniture, and making dollhouses and other crafts. His children were also involved, making crafts, helping to set up and dismantle, and run the registers. Vacations in Maine became antique hunts. In addition to their own works, Vera’s Holiday Boutique allowed hundreds of other crafters to sell their works. When the Boutique’s popularity grew to the point that people were waiting in long lines in the snow, they relocated it from their home to the volunteer fire department. Their success was the result of hard work and more than a few dollops of luck.
Bill enjoyed boating and shared it with his family and friends. Somehow we all survived the trips with “Cappy” to go fishing, see the fireworks up the East River, or the Centennial Tall Ships Parade and fireworks viewed from the boat near the Statue of Liberty. Boating with Bill adventures included being rescued in the Shark River inlet, and running aground on Sandy Hook in the dark. We were all lucky to be with this very lucky man.
Bill explored by boat the Connecticut and Hudson Rivers, always dreaming of a house on the water. His love of water and his inner child eventually led to Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey. He bought a summer cottage that looked a lot like the family cottage in Maine. Parties there (in, on, and off the water) rivaled many college parties. Enjoying the lake life so much, he moved from his dream home to a year round home there. Many an hour was spent enjoying the view with a drink in hand from the deck or lounging in the lake. Even in his 80s, after two hip surgeries, he was active swimming, kayaking, taking people for boat rides, playing pool till the wee hours, gardening, working on the house, and playing tennis with his granddaughter. What a lucky man he was.
Bill and Vera were fortunate to travel in the U.S., Europe, Russia, and the Caribbean. He also enjoyed travels with his children. Bill moved to Heath Village, in Hackettstown NJ, and quickly made many new friends. Ever the child, he was soon playing bocce, pool, and ping pong with his new playmates.
Till the end, Bill was making jokes and having fun. What a lucky man he was, and how lucky we, his family and friends, are to have known him.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making donations to The Heath Village Friendship Fund in Hackettstown, NJ, or the Wilson Memorial Church in Watchung, NJ.. Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to Cochran Funeral Home, 905 High Street, Hackettstown NJ 07840. Those wishing to leave an online condolence may do so at www.cochranfuneral.com