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Donald Morgan Watkin '43

Jun. 17, 1922-Oct. 29, 2007

Donald Morgan Watkin ’43, a physician and medical researcher and administrator who managed the employee health division of the Federal Aviation Administration, was born on June 17, 1922, in Waterford, NY. The only child of Earl P. Watkin ’12 and the former Mary Ellen Morgan, both educators, he grew up in Ilion, NY, where his father was superintendent of schools. While a junior at Ilion High School, he won a League of Nations Association essay contest, which resulted in an extensive trip to Europe and the opportunity, rare for a teenager in those days and even now, to meet political leaders and other high officials abroad. He came back to Ilion with a future in the international relations field very much in mind, and with no thought at all to a career in medicine.

Following his graduation from Ilion in 1939 as valedictorian of his class, Don Watkin came to College Hill. He joined his father’s fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, and enthusiastically participated in the Debate Club and public speaking contests, as well as campus publications and Hamilton’s newly launched radio station, WHC. He served as managing editor of Hamilton Life and newscaster on WHC in addition to membership on the Interfraternity Council. Elected to both the forensic and journalism honoraries Delta Sigma Rho and Pi Delta Epsilon, he also graced the Dean’s List for four years and was graduated with honors in biology in 1943. By that time, “the chief globe-trotter” of the class, influenced in part by his introduction on the Hill to the biological sciences, had embraced medicine as his future career.

In the midst of World War II, Don Watkin entered Harvard Medical School under the auspices of the U.S. Navy’s V-12 program. He earned his M.D. degree in 1946, and on June 22 of that year he was married to Virginia Guild in Brooklyn. Specializing in nutrition and gerontology, he engaged in postgraduate training in clinical and research medicine until 1951. That year, he began his long career with the federal government in the U.S. Public Health Service as a senior investigator in the gerontology section of the National Heart Institute in Baltimore, MD. He was subsequently employed for six years as an investigator in the metabolism section of the National Cancer Institute in Washington, DC, and as attending physician at the National Institutes of Health’s clinical center in Bethesda, MD.

Beginning in 1960, Dr. Watkin was able to resume his “globe-trotting” as a nutrition advisor to the Pan American Health Organization in Mexico City and consultant to the Interdepartmental Committee on Nutrition for National Defense in countries ranging from Brazil and Peru to Egypt, Iran, and Pakistan. He assisted in numerous international health and nutrition surveys and directed those carried out in Libya, the eastern Caribbean, and Paraguay. Don Watkin also served as an associate professor of nutrition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and acquired a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University in 1965. He chaired the panel on aging of the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health (1969-70) as well as the technical committee on nutrition of the White House Conference on Aging (1970-77). He remained as an officer in both the Public Health Service and U.S. Naval Reserve, and attained the rank of captain.

Dr. Watkin, who, by 1966, was with the Veterans Administration as chief of research in nutrition, gerontology, and gastroenterology in Washington, served for a year (1968-69) as field director of the New York State nutrition program and health survey. From 1973 to 1978, he directed the national nutrition program for the elderly in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In 1979, he became a research professor of health sciences for George Washington University School of Medicine, and in 1981, he began the final phase of his 42 years in federal service when appointed chief of the occupational health division for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Until his retirement as manager of the employee health branch in 1995, Dr. Watkin was responsible for the health and health-awareness programs for all of the FAA’s 50,000-person workforce. In the early 1980s, after President Ronald Reagan had fired all the air traffic controllers who had gone on strike, he was involved in the huge task of medically evaluating some 8,000 newly recruited replacement trainees. Through the years, he continued to lecture and consult abroad, including China under sponsorship of the World Health Organization. A past chairman of the Explorers Club’s Washington Group, he also trod the path of adventure by making several trips to Antarctica and other remote parts of the world. Often joining him in his overseas jaunts was his wife Virginia, who continued to pursue a distinguished career of her own as a partner in the prestigious Washington, DC, law firm of Covington & Burling.

All of Don Watkin’s remarkably varied activities and achievements reflected his highly methodical mind, devoted to precision. They included authorship or co-authorship of more than 125 articles on nutrition, gerontology, and public health in medical and scientific journals, as well as the Handbook of Nutrition, Health, and Aging (1983). Amidst his myriad activities he always remained close to Hamilton, which he credited with providing him with “the blueprint for an optimum life.” A devoted supporter of the College in many volunteer capacities, including fund-raising activities and membership on the Alumni Council, he also served his Class as a dedicated and ever-faithful correspondent for this magazine for more than 25 years. A generous contribution to Hamilton’s new Science Center, he defied ill health and physical infirmities to attend its dedication in 2005.

Donald M. Watkin, despite years of illness and physical debilitation, maintained a sunny disposition, a sharp mind, and a lively interest in the world’s happenings until the very end. He died in Washington of complications of diabetes on October 29, 2007. In addition to his wife of 61 years, he is survived by two sons, Henry M. and Edward G. Watkin ’79; two daughters, Mary Ellen Watkin and Ann K. Watkin-Statham; and four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.


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