Robert M. Watson, a longtime physician who also performed locally as a top-notch jazz pianist, died July 23 from injuries he suffered in an automobile accident in Southern California. He was 76.
Dr. Watson was driving northbound on Interstate 5 near Lebec in Kern County when his sport-utility vehicle drove onto the dirt center median, according to the California Highway Patrol. He steered the vehicle back on the road but lost control and hit a metal guardrail, officials said. He was found unconscious and taken to a hospital, where he died.
His wife, Teri, a contributor to The Bee's Food & Wine section, was riding with him and suffered moderate injuries. She told The Bee that her husband swerved onto the center median to avoid a car that had veered into their lane.
Dr. Watson was an obstetrician and gynecologist for 33 years, mostly in the Sacramento area. He was a clinical instructor at UC Davis from 1974 to 1976 and served in the Air Force Medical Corps as OB/GYN department chief at Mather Air Force Base hospital from 1966 to 1968.
He left private practice in 1997 and joined the California Department of Health Services. He investigated patient complaints at nursing homes and hospitals as a medical consultant for the licensing and certification division.
After retiring in 2004, Dr. Watson turned full time to his love of music, which he played every day on a beautiful grand piano at home. He enrolled at American River College, where he studied and performed advanced piano jazz techniques in ensembles with much-younger students.
"Most of them were college-age kids," friend Bob Shebesta said. "He got a real kick out of playing with them. He always had a smile and had no problem talking with young kids as well as older folks."
Dr. Watson performed with pickup bands at many public venues, including Elks Club meetings, luncheons, retirement homes and wineries. He played every Sunday evening for two years at Zachary Jacques, a noted French restaurant in Placerville.
He hosted popular jam sessions at his Carmichael home every Friday evening. Beneath a neon "open" sign in the window, he welcomed musicians and friends for lively evenings of food, conversation and jazz.
"He was so happy when young people came," his wife said. "We'd have music with wine and snacks, and discussions of music and politics afterward. They'd be jamming until 2 in the morning."
Robert Milton Watson was born in 1935 in Galva, Iowa. His mother took him to piano lessons in Des Moines every week as a boy, and he played in bands in college. He earned a medical degree from the State University of Iowa in 1960.
He was married for the last 30 years to wife Teri. He had four children during marriage to his first wife, Margo, which ended in divorce.
Dr. Watson appreciated fine pleasures. He owned classic cars – including a 1960 Jaguar Mark 2 and a 1972 Mercedes 280 SL – and was a former president of the Sacramento Jaguar Club. He enjoyed wine and gourmet food.
"He always had his music," his wife said. "He didn't play in bands while he was practicing medicine, but he played every day. It was how he relaxed."