He was born July 27, 1901 in Choestoe, Union County, Georgia. He died February 13, 2005 in Redmond Hospital, Rome, Georgia. In his life that spanned over a century, he completed a lot of living. This centenarian-plus was Watson Benjamin Dyer, noted genealogist, researcher, compiler, publisher, keeper of the records of related families in early Union County and since, covering Dyer, Souther, Collins, Jackson, Ingram, Vandiver and related lines. As a matter of fact, Mr. Dyer’s works in genealogy have been the major sources of much of the information you have read in “Through Mountain Mists” for more than a year and a half. I pay tribute to him and thank him for what he has taught me of those who went before us.
When this column is published February 17, 2005, we will be attending the funeral of Watson Benjamin Dyer in Cedartown, Georgia at 1:00 p. m. Cousins and friends will gather prior to the funeral at the Litesey Funeral Home Chapel and greet each other, telling how Watson touched their lives and how we thought, even though he had reached 103 in July, 2004, we somehow expected him to gain another year, to be indomitable, to keep on being our mentor and storehouse of information. We will hear his life in review given in his eulogy and we will identify with what we know of this unusual man. At Aragon Cemetery where his beloved wife Jewel was laid to rest in September, 1990, we will stand at attention as the military honor guard gives its salute and the music of taps fills the air. We will return to our respective homes, thinking about how Watson Benjamin Dyer touched our lives for good.
He was the first of four children born to Joseph Albert Dyer (1877-1962) and Nina Idaho Collins Dyer (1881-1962). His father served as postmaster of the Choestoe post office for several years. His siblings, still living, are Desma Frances Dyer Fry of Demorest, Georgia and Odell Bluford Dyer of Gainesville, Georgia. A twin to Odell, Sarah Grapelle Dyer Hood, died April 16, 2001.
Watson Dyer attended grammar school at Choestoe. He was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Blairsville Collegiate Institute where he and his young uncle, Vernon Patrick Dyer (January 22, 1900-October 24, 1974), boarded together. Following his terms at the Institute, Watson helped his Uncle, Herschel Arthur Dyer, teach at New Liberty School where more than eighty pupils were enrolled. Watson also taught at Pine Top School and Asbestos School in White County. Then he went to Fairburn, Georgia where his uncle, Mauney Douglas Collins, who would later serve for twenty-five years as Georgia’s State School Superintendent, lived and was principal of the high school there. At age 19, Watson Benjamin Dyer graduated from the Fairburn High School. He taught a year at the Stonewall School in Fairburn.
Watson was too young to enter World War I. His teaching experience in small schools for five years helped him to see he did not really want teaching as his major career.
He got a job working at the Candler Warehouse in Atlanta following World War I. Then he began some years of traveling. For a short period he got a job working in insurance in Cincinnati, Ohio.
He returned to Georgia and enrolled in the Draughon’s Business College in Atlanta. Following his course of study there, he got a job as a bookkeeper in Atlanta. Then he went to Detroit, Michigan and worked for a period in the automobile industry.
The Great Depression hit America and jobs were hard to find. Prior to the Depression, his parents had bought farmland near Demorest in Habersham County, Georgia. He returned to Georgia and lived with them and helped his father on the farm. Watson’s uncle, Norman Vester Dyer, who had served as President of the Blairsville Collegiate Institute, was in Cornelia at the time, and he and Watson opened a print shop. That little shop gave Watson a love for printer’s ink and led him into the profession he followed for the rest of his life.
His next move was far away from Georgia, in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, where he worked for a newspaper in advertising. From this assignment he moved to Columbia, Missouri. He apprenticed to a noted engraver there, Elvin Brown, and expanded his knowledge of printing and publishing, and learned photography as well.
Then came World War II. He enlisted in the U. S. Navy. His assignment on the USS Bushnell Submarine Tender gave him action in the Pacific Theater of war. He had the position of ship’s photographer. As submarines came to the Bushnell for supplies and repairs, the young recruits found out a photographer was aboard the Bushnell. Watson made many pictures of these young men which they sent home to families. For some of them, Watson’s picture was the last taken of them before they met their deaths. Watson reached the rank of seaman first class. His service time was without injury. Watson’s brother, Odell, served during World War II in the US Army Air Force and earned a purple heart for his bravery in the South Pacific. After his discharge, Watson lost his sea bag on his way home, with valuable photographs, commendations and medals earned. It was in 2003 through the efforts of Chief Quartermaster Michael Wood, career Navy man and son of one of Watson’s caretakers, Roberta Wood, that his medals were reissued. These included the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory medal, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal.
Following World War II, Watson got a job at the Cave Spring, Georgia School for the Deaf as director of the printing shop, teacher of typesetting and printing, and adult sponsor for the student newspaper, “The Georgia School for the Deaf Standard News.”
Jewel James was librarian at the School for the Deaf. They had been sweethearts years before. This was their reintroduction. They were married in Atlanta on November 26, 1953 by Watson’s uncle, the Rev. Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins, then State Superintendent of Schools. Watson and Jewel continued to work at the School for the Deaf . Their next move was to Atlanta where Watson became manager of the Georgia Department of Education’s printing operations and Jewel was appointed head of the Georgia Library for the Blind.
While still living in Atlanta, Watson began his work in genealogy, visiting often the Georgia Department of Archives and History to do research on branches of his family. He and Jewel became active members of the Georgia Genealogical and Historical Society.
Upon retirement in 1961, they moved to Rome, Georgia and helped to organize the Northwest Georgia Genealogical and Historical Society. Watson served as president for sixteen years and he and Jewel published the quarterly bulletin for the organization. Their travels took them to many states where they researched records in courthouses and archives. He began the publication of family history books. From 1965 through 1988 he published five volumes: “The Original Dyer-Souther Settlers of Choestoe District, Union County, GA, 1832-1965”; “Collins-Jackson Family History” (1975); “Dyer Family History” (1980); “Dyer Family History, Revised” (1986); and “Souther Family History” (1988). People beat a path to his door as they lived in Rome, in Cedartown, and in his widowerhood, in Cave Spring, to seek information about family connections from this walking history buff.
Jewel died September 18, 1990, and life was never the same for Watson. But he lived one of his goals, and that was to remain at home. Thanks to excellent caregivers, he was able to do so except for the last several days of his life when he was hospitalized at Redmond in Rome.
From July 27, 1901 through February 13, 2005, Watson lived through terms of nineteen presidents, William McKinley through George W. Bush. From the horse and buggy days to space stations and communication satellites, he has experienced over ten decades of history. Watson lived history and related to the various periods of decline, invention, war, depression, revamping and progress. Thanks seems too small a word to express our appreciation to this tall man who loved his heritage and wanted to leave us a record of it. May there be those in subsequent generations who will keep the torch aflame.
[Note: For those who would like to make a memorial gift, contributions to the New Liberty Baptist Church Cemetery Fund, Dyer-Souther Heritage Association, may be sent to Marie C. Knight, 1000 Knight’s Mountain Drive, Blairsville, GA 30512.]
c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 17, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.