John Lawrence Watson III, who led securities trading for Atlanta’s Robinson-Humphrey Co. during its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, creating capital for companies that would become some of the Southeast’s major corporate players, passed away on January 6 following a prolonged illness, just shy of 92.
Known for steely calm amid the chaos of the trading floor, he stood out for being clear-thinking, clean-cut and, rarest of all, clean mouthed. They called him the gentleman trader. On raucous Gulf Coast fishing trips his closest friends dubbed him St. John.
Whether as a securities trader, a master bridge player, or a poker player you bluffed at your peril, he had a head for numbers, a quick and unerring decisiveness, and an uncanny sense of timing. He prevailed at tennis through precision placement, at golf through an unflappable short game.
Born in Rome, GA., and graduating high school in Macon, John went on to Auburn University, where he became a lifelong-loyal Phi Delta Theta and studied business. After two years in the U.S. Army, he came to Atlanta where in rapid succession in the late 1950s he began his investment career, married Dorothy McLanahan Watson, and then signed on with Robinson-Humphrey. There, he found his calling, making markets in regional over-the-counter stocks, and rose to leadership’s inner circle as an executive vice president.
John left Atlanta in 1985 for New York to become president of the Securities Traders Association. The role took John and Dot on world travels while making them inveterate New Yorkers. For John, that included descending 45 flights of smoke-filled stairs after the first attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993.
Devout throughout his life, John was a deacon in Atlanta’s Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church; a board member of New York’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church; and, with Dot, among the 12 prominent New Yorkers who founded The City Church, New York, providing a pulpit for its renowned minister, R. Maurice Boyd.
After retiring from STA in 1996, John volunteered to help post-Soviet Armenia develop its securities exchange, the Watsons twice living in Yerevan. John retired full-time to his Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, house overlooking the Atlantic. With Dot, he showed his children’s families the world, including group expeditions on safari and to the Galapagos and individual 16th birthday trips with each grandchild. John lived out his final years in Greenville, SC.
In addition to Dot, his wife of more than 65 years, survivors include: brother Frank (Mary) Watson of Ponte Vedra Beach, FL; daughters Palmer (Richard) Gard of Charlottesville, VA, and Catherine (Bob) Bilbrough of Savannah, GA, and son John (Demitra) Watson IV of Greenville, SC; grandchildren CeCe (Adam) Peloquin of Pinehurst, NC, Laura (Collin) Granger of Richmond, VA, Robert (Grace) Bilbrough III of Grand Rapids, MI, Jay (Kim) Gard of Los Angeles, Kate (Jordon) Weaver of Greenville, SC, Sarah (Sam) Gray of Richmond, VA, and Elizabeth (Deston) Taylor of Pensacola, FL; and great-grandchildren Thomas and Rhodes Peloquin, Vallie Cate and Dottie Granger, Robert Bilbrough IV, and Alexandra Gray.
A graveside service will take place on Saturday, January 20, at 11:00 a.m. in Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens, GA.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to New York’s Museum of American Financial History, which John helped found (https://www.moaf.org/ways-to-give), or Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church (https://www.spdl.org/give).
Friends are encouraged to share their favorite memories of John with the family by clicking on the button labeled “Leave A Message, Share A Memory” below.