Jean L. Watson, whose culinary expertise led to the founding with her husband of what became a well-known Baltimore County catering firm, died of cancer Friday at her Timonium home. She was 81.
Jean Lindeman was born and raised in Washington, where she graduated from Coolidge High School.
She attended Mary Washington College and George Washington University before earning a bachelor's degree in English education from the University of Maryland, College Park in the late 1940s.
Mrs. Watson worked as a legal secretary for Robert Lynch, a Washington law firm, before her 1952 marriage to David R. Watson, who was associated with the Ray V. Watson Co., a family-owned business that manufactured gears and heavy equipment.
The couple shared an interest in good food and party planning. After the Ray V. Watson Co. was sold, they decided to go into catering full time and in 1975 established Watson Caterers.
"In order to raise money to pay tuition for our children, who were attending Roland Park Country School and McDonogh School, we spent our vacations preparing and selling fast food at the City Fair. We also did the Timonium State Fair and the spring fair at Johns Hopkins University," Mr. Watson recalled Monday.
Mr. Watson attributed the catering company's success to satisfied customers.
"It really was by word of mouth," he said.
Today the business has 12 full-time employees and caters more than 400 events a year.
Mrs. Watson also maintained exacting standards that extended not only to the food but also to table settings and flowers.
"Everything had to be right before it went out of the kitchen, and if it wasn't, it didn't go out," Mr. Watson said. "She had a lot of class and was a stickler on this."
Her sister, Janet L. Richardson of Columbia, said Mrs. Watson always enjoyed cooking.
"She had a great sense of both preparation and presentation. She really was a little Martha Stewart," Mrs. Richardson said. "Her feeling was, if you're going to do it, then do it right."
While the couple relied upon family recipes, they also honed their culinary skills by taking French cooking lessons.
Mrs. Watson was also an excellent baker and was also known for her soups, said a daughter, Tracey S. Watson, who owns and is president of the business. She lives in Homeland.
"But it was her crab dip recipe - which we never give out - that people really like. Big fans of it include Ben Vereen and Ashford & Simpson," Ms. Watson said. "We ship it to Hollywood stars and just regular customers."
Jeanne C. Baetjer, who has been a customer since 1975, appreciated the couple's "personal approach."
"I knew I never had to worry. They were both gracious, efficient and kind, and they wanted to make sure that everything was done the way I wanted to have it done," Mrs. Baetjer said. "Not only did everything always taste good, it was beautifully presented."
Mrs. Batejer recalled the time the firm catered an event for 400 at her Garrison home.
"It was a dinner for the Greater Baltimore Medical Center's Sherwood Society, and they tented my entire garden," she said. "And there wasn't one problem. Everything was beautiful."
Mrs. Baetjer added that while the "crab dip was marvelous," one of her favorite hors d'oeuvres produced by the catering firm was "baked brie on toast topped by a wedge of Smithfield ham."
Mrs. Watson, who retired in 1995, enjoyed traveling, and playing mah-jongg and canasta. A beach fan, she also liked visiting Bethany Beach, Del., and Kiawah Island.
The longtime Timonium resident was a member of the Baltimore Country Club.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. today at St. Stephen's Traditional Episcopal Church, 11856 Mays Chapel Road in Timonium.
Also surviving are a son, Christopher R. Watson of Timonium; another daughter, Leslie Watson Howard of Phoenix, Baltimore County; and five grandchildren.