Longtime Haverhill Housing Chief Mary Watson Dies at 96

Mary T. Watson was chief executive officer of the Haverhill Housing Authority and one of the first women to hold such a powerful position.

Mary T. Watson.

Mary T. Watson.

The longtime head of the Haverhill Housing Authority, Mary T. Watson, died Tuesday. She was 96.

While she didn’t know it at the time, she became the founding executive director of the authority in 1948. That was when she was approached by Haverhill National Bank’s George MacGregor about filling a “two-week” job organizing the agency. She ended up serving 34 years in the job and another 26 years on the board of directors, retiring in 2008.

“I was stuck with this job,” Watson told WHAV in her final interview this past March. She previously worked for Haverhill Electric Co., at the corner of Merrimack and How Streets. She went on to build all of the city’s original veterans and elderly housing projects—at Summer and Mount Vernon Streets, Hilldale Avenue, Kennedy Circle in Riverside, Julian Steele, upper Washington Street and Washington Block in Washington Square.

“I had a wonderful board to work for. I loved my job. I have to say that George MacGregor, when he retired from the bank, and as head of a state agency, they gave him a big article. They asked him what he like best about of the job, he said, ‘building housing for the elderly.’ He gave credit to housing and not banking,” Watson recalled.

In the early days, Haverhill Housing Authority had little money and staff.

“We started small. Every applicant—we gave them a home visit and that was me. Then we hired a social worker. When we selected the tenant, we did it our way. People really needed the housing. This was after world II,” she told WHAV.

When the city decided to undertake “urban renewal”—the large-scale demolition of its downtown during the 1960s and 1970s, Watson reluctantly took on the job.

“That was a pain in the neck. I ended up with both jobs. I was going nuts. Urban renewal and veterans housing was like day in night,” Watson said. She credited her successor Dennis Soraghan with carrying on her vision for the agency. “He was a good employee. He could work with people. You dealt with all types of people. They loved Dennis,” she said. Soraghan recently retired.

Watson, wife of the late Vincent A. Watson, passed away at Hannah Duston Nursing Home in Haverhill surrounded by her family.

Born in Haverhill, she was the daughter of the late Jeremiah and Catherine (Egan) Coughlin. Raised and educated in Haverhill, she attended St. James Grammar School and St. James High School, class of 1937. She was a graduate of MacIntosh Business School. She met her husband Vincent and they married in 1946, enjoying 45 years of marriage. In addition to the Housing Authority she also served on the boards of Stevens Bennett Home and the Children Family Aide Society. She was a cooperator and trustee of Family Mutual Savings Bank (now TD Bank). Her wish was to encourage people to volunteer for the Merrimack Valley Hospice. The family thanks the staff at Hannah Duston Healthcare Center and Merrimack Valley Hospice for excellent care.

Watson is survived by her daughter, Anne R. Leger and her husband Robert of Haverhill; granddaughter, Julie A. Leger, and great grandchild, Connor X, both of Groveland; and many nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her brother John J. Coughlin and her sister Catherine G. Tarbox.

Family and friends are invited to attend calling hours Thursday, Aug. 4, from 4 to 7 p.m., at Kevin B. Comeau Funeral Home, 486 Main St., Haverhill. Funeral services begin Friday morning at 9, from the funeral home with a Mass of Christian Burial to be celebrated at 10, at St. John the Baptist Church, Lincoln Avenue, Haverhill. Burial will follow in St. James Cemetery, Primrose Street, Haverhill. Donations may be made in her memory to a charity of one’s choice.