Doctor likely to work, then celebrate 100th

Nurse Leslie Rice and the staff at Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates of Augusta had an unusual problem recently.

"Nobody carries cards that say '100,' " she told Dr. W.G. "Curly" Watson, who just laughed. They finally found one birthday card at one store that fit the bill.

Watson turns 100 today and will likely be in his office before a big celebration at University Hospital, where he has practiced since 1947.

According to University, he is the oldest physician in the country still practicing. He is also the oldest living graduate of The Citadel, where he was top of his class in 1931.

"People think it is hard today," Watson said. "It doesn't compare with '31."

His class had been promised that its top two graduates would get jobs with a chemical company but the jobs never materialized and Watson found himself back on the farm in Edgefield working for 45 or 50 cents a day.

"All day long," he said. "From sunup to sundown."

He plowed barefoot behind a mule, saving his shoes for Sunday school.

A year later, when the football coach at Edgefield High School left, the former end for the Citadel team became its new coach and principal.

"The single wing," Watson said, smiling, a football formation he taught his team, elements of which have come back into vogue with the spread formation in college and the Wildcat formation in the NFL. Football is still a passion for Watson, who rarely misses a North Augusta High School game.

"It's a different game," he said. "It's still a great game on Friday night."

He saved up enough in seven years at Edgefield High to enroll in medical school at Medical College of Georgia in 1939. He did his residency at University and after a stint in the military ended in 1947, has never left.

The hospital estimates he delivered 15,000 babies before he finally stopped around 1996, but he kept scrubbing in for surgery until a few years ago.

He has delivered several branches of the family tree for many Augusta families. Joy Willis said that -- counting her mother, her, and her four siblings, and some in-laws -- Watson delivered at least 17 of them. She and her mother, Sabra Allen, 77, both still go to see him as patients.

"He is so kind and gentle," Willis said. "You go in there, he's genuinely concerned. He takes the time to listen to you."

And he always asks about family and knows the families well. He still sees five or six patients a day.

"Every day when I see patients, I'll have somebody say, 'I've been seeing you 50 years,' " he said.

But medicine, even the delivery of children, has changed over that time. When he started, the rate of cesarean deliveries was 3 percent to 5 percent.

"And now it's approximately 30 percent," said Watson, who is still chief of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University, whose Women's Center also bears his name.

The relationship with patients is a little different now, too, he said.

"You don't see as many doctors, since they have rotations, delivering their own patient, as they used to in the past," Watson said.

When one of her family went into labor, Willis said, "Dr. Watson always met us at the hospital."

Patients would stay five days to a week after a delivery -- the average is now about two days -- and it didn't end when they went home, Watson said.

"You'd make a house call if they were within 10 miles of Augusta," he said. "Now you see very few house calls."

While Watson is still going to the office, he is not seeing patients this week after falling recently and injuring a hip, which has forced him to use a walker as he leaves.

Audrey Watson, his wife of 65 years, smiles warmly at him from the doorway of his office as he scoots down the hallway.

"We've never noticed the 15 years between us," the wartime bride said, but "it bothered my mother."

Now her older man is much, much older but Watson insists he is not even thinking about retirement, waving off questions about it with a simple, "No."

In fact, his nurse said, he is still taking new patients.

Centennial celebration

University Hospital is holding a 100th birthday party for Dr. W.G. "Curly" Watson beginning at noon today in a tent on the front lawn of the hospital.

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