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Hays man remembered for his many community roles

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

Father. Friend. Doctor. Church-goer. Advocate.

These are just a few of the words used to describe longtime Hays resident Dr. Harry Watts.

Watts, who practiced medicine in Hays for three decades and was well-known for his volunteerism, died Saturday. He was 85.

"People just have to remember all the good he did in this community," said Linda Boone, who attended church with Watts for more than 40 years. "He is a treasure for the city of Hays."

One of the things Boone remembers most about Watts is his faith and commitment to the Episcopalian church. He was active in the church, serving on various committees both locally and regionally.

"I think everything he did was faith-based," Boone said. "He did not speak harshly of anyone. He looked for the best in everyone."

Watts and his wife, Valerie, had three sons. The family moved to Hays in 1960; Watts joined an ophthalmology practice that later became Siler, Watts and Applegate.

During his medical career, he served as medical chief of staff at Hadley and St. Anthony hospitals, which later merged to form Hays Medical Center.

Dr. Francis Applegate worked with Watts for 24 years and thought highly of his colleague.

"He was a very gregarious man, pleasant to be around, and he was very active in the community," Applegate said. "He was a great advertisement for our business."

Boone also knew Watts as an employer. She began working at the medical clinic when she was 24. Boone's parents died before she finished high school and, without any family in the area, she looked to Watts as a mentor.

"He would just sit and talk me through problems and things," she said. "I looked to those doctors as confidants and helpers. He was most kind and would always listen and help."

Watts retired from medicine in 1992 but still found plenty to keep him busy. In recent years, he was known as an advocate for seniors. He started the Hays chapter of AARP and the Generations page for The Hays Daily News.

He also worked part-time for KAYS radio, hosting the "Coming of Age" radio program with Mike Cooper. The program tackled a wide range of issues pertinent for area seniors and their families.

The program was Watts' idea, and the station agreed to try it on a three-month trial basis. The program became popular and continued for nearly three years, ending in 2010.

"He was very dedicated to the job," Cooper said. "When he went into it, he went into it full force and really put effort into it."

Cooper said he was surprised how naturally Watts took to the job -- he had no previous radio experience. Watts thoroughly researched his topics and began each program by recapping his activities during the previous day.

"I used to kid him, saying he did more in a week than I did in a month," Cooper said with a chuckle.

Visitation is from 5 to 7 p.m. today at Cline's Mortuary of Hays, 1919 E. 22nd. Services will be at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Michael Episcopal Church, 2900 Canal Blvd.

In keeping with Watts' attention to detail, he planned the service himself, Boone said, noting it will feature some of Watts' favorite jazz music.

"It will be something else, I'm sure," she said.