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Jacqueline Watts

Jacqueline “Jackie” Watts, the former editor of The East Baltimore Guide, died.
Jacqueline “Jackie” Watts, the former editor of The East Baltimore Guide, died. (Baltimore Sun)

Jacqueline "Jackie" Watts, the former editor of The East Baltimore Guide who became an Enoch Pratt Free Library editor and graphic designer, died of cancer Dec. 30 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. She was 61 and lived in Greektown.

"Jackie Watts was a champion for freedom of speech and expression. But she had a huge passion for libraries and literacy," said Carla D. Hayden, the Pratt director. "Her commitment to the library, literacy and Baltimore is immeasurable. She was a Baltimore original."

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Born in Fort Belvoir, Va., Ms. Watts was the daughter of James H. Watts, an Army colonel, and Janet Lois Watts, his wife. She moved as her father was reassigned and earned a bachelor's degree from San Diego State University. She earned a master's degree from Pennsylvania State University.

She settled in New York City, where she worked in costume design and assisted actress Angela Lansbury in "Sweeney Todd." She also worked with Sigourney Weaver, Glenn Close, and Jim Henson and the Muppets. She came to Baltimore and taught at Goucher College and worked design jobs in regional theater, including Center Stage. She also held an ad agency job.

Friends recalled her haunts, Birds of a Father in Fells Point and the Mount Royal Tavern in Bolton Hill. They said it seemed she was always dressed in jeans and a green or purple sweater, and enjoyed discussing baseball, politics and Baltimore.

"She bonded with Baltimore and was a huge advocate for the city," said Laura Gamble, a friend who is regional president for PNC Bank in Maryland. "She was smart, witty and entertaining to be with. ... She was a real community advocate."

After initially residing in Bolton Hill, Ms. Watts moved to Durham Street in Fells Point and later purchased a Greektown home. Friends recalled her as being such an Orioles fan that they called her the unofficial Sporting News version of the Baltimore Orioles. She also followed the Ravens.

In the spring of 1990, she joined the staff of The East Baltimore Guide, later the Baltimore Guide, a free weekly founded in 1927 that appeared on doorsteps on Thursday mornings at that time.

"We wanted to increase our coverage of Fells Point. She was well known there, and she initially she wrote a freelance column, 'To the Point,' " said Richard Sandza, who then owned the paper and was its publisher. "We brought her on as a writer and later moved her up as editor in November 1991."

Mr. Sandza described her as "brilliant and eccentric" and "incredibly well read."

The Dundalk Eagle published a tribute this week, describing Ms. Watts as "a rough-edge journalist unafraid to stick her nose where it didn't belong ... a kind soul whose sometimes-dour professional demeanor belied her sensitive and cultured soul."

Mr. Sandza, a former Newsweek correspondent who lives in Washington, said, "Everybody turned to Jackie for questions of grammar. Because of her father's being in the Army, she had gone to high school in England, where she really learned the fine points of the language. She was a good photographer and was a bird-watcher too."

Ms. Watts embraced Southeast Baltimore in her coverage. She also mounted a campaign for a new anchor library, which opened at Conkling Street and Eastern Avenue in 2007. She battled preservationists who wanted to save the old Grand Theatre, a movie house that stood on the site. She also took on merchants who wanted to keep the site commercial.

"That building, the new library, across from the Guide's office, is there because of her," Mr. Sandza said.

Chris Ryer, director of the Southeast Community Development Corp., said, "She had strong opinions, and she was not afraid to state them."

He said she knew the neighborhoods she covered and she caught their flavor.

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After leaving the Guide, she joined the Pratt Library and worked at its Cathedral Street headquarters. Staffers there said she quickly became a popular colleague. Among her duties, she edited Menckeniana, a publication dedicated to the life and works of H.L. Mencken.

"Her favorite holiday was Thanksgiving, because she instituted a Fells Point tradition where we would go to Laurel and bet on the horses, where they would give out complementary pies and then we would go home and cook dinner for an ever-changing crowd of people who didn't have family close by," said Ms. Gamble. "She called it the orphans' Thanksgiving dinner. She was a fierce and loyal friend."

A service of remembrance will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, St. Paul and 22nd streets.

Survivors include a brother, James H. Watts of Apopka, Fla.; and a sister, Judith A. Watts of San Diego.

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