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November 11, 2004

Joseph A. Watson

Joseph A. Watson, Pitt distinguished emeritus professor of radiation health, died Oct. 6, 2004, of heart disease. He was 78.

Watson’s career at Pitt spanned more than four decades from his undergraduate days in the late 1940s to his retirement as emeritus professor in 1988 after a distinguished career in teaching and research in radiation biology.

Watson completed his bachelor’s degree in bacteriology in 1950 and his master’s in microbiology in 1952, both at Pitt.

He also worked as a research assistant at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) in the Department of Occupational Health from 1951 to 1956. His research, funded by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, included some of the earliest studies of the biological effects of inhaled radioactive particulates.

Following a year as radiation safety officer for radioisotope service at the Pittsburgh Veterans Administration Hospital, he returned to GSPH in 1957 and helped develop the teaching program in radiobiology in the Department of Occupational Health.

He completed his Ph.D. in microbial genetics at Pitt and was promoted through the academic ranks, rising to professor of radiobiology in 1973. He also held a joint appointment as associate professor of radiology in Pitt’s School of Medicine and as an adjunct professor of radiobiology in Duquesne University’s School of Pharmacy. Upon his retirement in 1988, he was named professor emeritus at GSPH.

Watson was a founder of the Department of Radiation Health at GSPH and headed its graduate teaching program. In the latter capacity he served as director of many U.S. Public Health Service training support and fellowship grants of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators.

Besides attracting nearly $2 million in training and research funds to GSPH over the years, Watson served in many capacities in the radiation health department, including as academic adviser and chair of the departmental academic committee, research and thesis adviser and lecturer.

Much of Watson’s research concentrated on the carcinogenic effects of radioactive particles in the lung, as well as the physiological mechanisms of pulmonary clearance. He published more than 50 research reports on those subjects.

Watson was a member of a number of professional organizations, including the Radiation Research Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Public Health Association, the Health Physics Society (western Pennsylvania chapter) and the American Society of Microbiology.

Following high school, he served in the military during World War II in the U.S. Air Force Tactical Command based in Japan.

Music was Watson’s lifelong passion. He played trumpet in the McKees Rocks High School band and orchestra, continued playing during his military service and later was named first chair in Pitt’s marching band.

He worked as a professional musician while in graduate school, playing Dixieland and Big Band music, and later accompanied his wife at the Ken Mawr United Presbyterian Church with the children’s Carol Choir.

His hobbies included animals, gardening, history and stamp collecting.

Watson is survived by his wife of 54 years, Dolores Jean of McKees Rocks; two daughter Leslie Dawn Guthrie and her husband Daniel E. Guthrie of Kennedy Township; daughter Susan Victoria Watson and her husband Michael H. Seid of Roselle, New Jersey, and sister-in-law Norma M. Drake of Kennedy Township.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 6

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