Marita W. Watts, a longtime Harford County public schools educator whose roles ranged from teacher and principal to being named supervisor of elementary education, died Nov. 19 at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air of heart failure. She was 88.
"She was certainly a dedicated educator," said Ruth H. Burkins, who had been supervisor of secondary education for Harford County public schools. "Education was her whole life."
"She was 19 years old when she began teaching and was quite innovative in those days. She was very forward-thinking," said Ethel Mae Sellman, who met Mrs. Watts as a fifth-grader in 1951. "She was a very, very good teacher who was also ahead of her time. She was always bringing other things into the classroom."
The daughter of Joseph Willard, a plumber, and Thelma Willard, a homemaker, Marita Willard was born and raised in Pocomoke City.
She attended high schools in Sharptown, Wicomico County, and graduated in 1943 from Mardela High School.
After graduating in 1946 from what is now Salisbury University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in education, Mrs. Watts began teaching in Aberdeen elementary schools. In 1958, she was named principal of Aberdeen Elementary School.
"In those days, you generally sat at your desk all day and just worked. She was more than just reading, writing and arithmetic," recalled Ms. Sellman, who lives in Aberdeen.
"She did a lot with social studies and when we were learning about Maryland history, she taught us the Virginia reel, including the boys," she said with a laugh. "We did little plays, and when we were studying the Colonial period, we dressed up as Colonial people. "
Another innovation that Mrs. Watts brought into her classroom was the spirit of working together.
"She taught us how to do things through groups and committees. This made us work together on a project," said Ms. Sellman, who went on to become a teacher.
"She was always well-groomed, and I loved what she did in the classroom. She was a great influence on me," she said. "My mother was a teacher, and my parents and Marita and her husband were close friends. She was like an aunt to me."
In 1964, Mrs. Watts was named supervisor of elementary schools in Harford County. She subsequently was involved in writing curriculum, recruiting and training teachers, and initiating the first kindergarten program in the county.
"After her appointment as supervisor, Marita worked with teachers and helped them develop their skills, developed curriculum and techniques," said Dr. Burkins, who lives in Newark, Del.
"She was always outgoing and positive in her views. She was a very strong woman and a good leader," said Dr. Burkins, who at the time of her 1987 retirement was Harford supervisor of special education.
"Because she had been an excellent teacher, she knew how to help them," said Dr. Burkins. "She also knew when to go back and when to go forward."
"Her mantra was 'Lead, follow, or get out of the way,'" said a nephew, Dennis W. Hancy of Princeton, N.J.
"She told me, 'Next to my husband, being involved in education was the joy of my life. Being an educator fulfilled many of my dreams — I was privileged to work with many fine teachers and young people every day,' " said Mr. Hancy.
As president of the Harford County Teachers Association, Mrs. Watts was successful in a campaign to pay teachers 12 months a year.
In 1955, she organized the Har-Co Federal Credit Union and served as its first president. In those early days, Mrs. Watts operated the credit union out of her classroom, where she made loans to teachers and accepted deposits.
Today, the organization has grown to more than 30,000 members, her nephew said.
"This was all part of working to improve education and the workplace for teachers, especially women teachers in Harford County," said Mr. Hancy.
Mrs. Watts was active in the Maryland Retired Teachers Association, where she served on the education and protective services committees that promote the welfare and safety of retired teachers.
She was also an active member and had been president of the Harford County Retired School Personnel Association.
Mrs. Watts, a longtime Aberdeen resident who moved to the Avondell retirement community in Bel Air in 2011, had been a longtime volunteer at Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace.
She was elected president in 2003 of the Harford Memorial Auxiliary. During her tenure, the auxiliary merged with other hospital volunteer organizations in a group that became the Harford Memorial Hospital Volunteer Auxiliary.
Mrs. Watts served as chairwoman of the Harford County Office on Aging Senior Fair. In 1972, she joined the board of the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame, where she helped seniors get health and financial advice.
Many of these efforts, her nephew said, "were on a one-to-one basis — shopping, writing checks and transporting seniors to appointments."
For her efforts, Mrs. Watts was inducted in 2005 into the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame and was presented the organization's GERI Award.
"This is Maryland's geriatric Nobel Prize for extraordinary humanitarian community service," said Mr. Hancy.
For 62 years, she was an active member of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, whose members are key international educators.
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