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Thomas L. Watson

Cedar Rapids

Thomas L. Watson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, passed away on Dec. 24, 2019, Christmas Eve day, after having been diagnosed with cancer three months earlier. He was 73, having been born in Freeport, Ill., on May 24, 1946, to George and Eileen (Stiefel) Watson. He was the second of five children from this marriage and grew up on the family farm, about 25 miles east of Galena, Ill.
Never married, he is survived by his mother, Eileen McKee, of Stockton, Ill.; a sister, MaLenna, of Plain, Wis.; a brother, Daryl, of Stockton, Ill; two half-brothers, Kevin McKee and Linden McKee, both of Stockton, Ill.; and one half-sister, Monica McKee, of Glendale, Wis.
Tom graduated from Warren High School in 1964 with high honors. He was remembered by classmates as quiet, likable and studious. Upon graduation, Tom immediately entered college and graduated in 1968 with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Next came the U.S. Navy. When a recruiter asked whether he'd like to serve in the Pacific or the Atlantic, he chose the Pacific, despite a Vietnam War in full swing. His choice may have been influenced by his father, who served in the U.S. Army in Hawaii only 10 years before Pearl Harbor. The Navy obliged by sending Tom to the Atlantic. He never saw the Pacific. And despite four years in the Navy he joked that he never did learn how to swim. He served aboard the USS Tidewater and then the USS Hugh Purvis, spending most of his time in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. He was discharged in 1972 with the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class, E5. Next came Collins Radio, where he served as an electrical engineer for 33 years. He was a major contributor to a number of key radio product designs for the U.S. government during his career at Collins. Shortly after leaving Collins, he joined Softronics Ltd. as an electrical engineer. In his 10-year career there, he again was a major contributor to a number of new radio products designed and manufactured by Softronics, most significantly a novel tunable filter.
During that time, he made frequent trips back to the farm in Illinois where he was happiest finding something to take apart or fix. New and perfectly running things were not nearly as interesting as old and broken down ones. He especially enjoyed collecting and working on old tractors, jeeps, guns and motorcycles --and all things electrical. With a mind never at rest, he also was an avid reader who explored topics that challenged traditional beliefs and ways of thinking. He definitely marched to a different drummer. Perhaps it was that eccentric and independent spirit that drove his technical innovation, and for which he will be most remembered by friends, family and co-workers.
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