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Saturday, April 13, 2024


Nov. 28, 2003 – Mario A. Watlington died Nov. 27 at Roy L. Schneider Hospital.
Viewing will be from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at John Thomas Memorial Chapel. Funeral services will follow at 2 p.m. at All Saints Cathedral.
He is survived by his wife, Lysia Audain Watlington; a son, Roy; a daughter, Norma Audrey Watlington Wood; grandchildren Masiere Wood Clarke, Antonio Wood and Kafi Watlington; great-grandchildren Christopher Jr. and Nyla Clarke; a sister, Joyce Lambertis Rhymer; many nieces and nephews; and 150 godchildren. He was pre-deceased by two sisters and two brothers.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, calling him "a community leader and activist of the first order," expressed condolences to the family, friends, loved ones and colleagues of the retired educator. "Mr. Watlington made a significant and lasting contribution to the people of the Virgin Islands during his long and distinguished public service career which spanned five decades," the statement said, detailing his long service as a member of the Board of Education and numerous other boards, commissions and constitutional conventions.
"He has made a positive mark on the lives of Virgin Islanders yet unborn," the governor's statement concluded.
Dr. Orville Kean, president emeritus of the University of the Virgin Islands, said he was a close family friend for 40 years. Kean and Watlington worked concurrently at the College of the Virgin Islands, later the University. Kean said Watlington had "a kind heart and open heart, and extended himself to people."
Watlington was born Nov. 9, 1917, the son of Victoria Lambertis and Joseph Watlington. He graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School. His Class of '37 also included Doris Comissiong, Doris Orie, Lincoln Oliver, the late Gwen Adams, and Dr. C. Warren Smith, among others. He obtained a bachelor's degree in business administration from City College, Baruch School, New York City, and a master's in education from New York University.
Before going to New York, he worked in the firm of D.O. Bornn and Sons, with the Social Welfare Department, and as a legal secretary to attorney David E. Maas and former Judge Carl Thiele. He taught business courses in the Education Department's evening school.
He also was active in politics from the 1940s, a member of the Progressive Party and editor of its newsletter, "The Progressive Guide." He ran for a seat on the Municipal Council in 1946 but was defeated by Earle B. Ottley, who thereby gained his first victory in politics. Watlington's son, Roy, recalled that his father often said laughingly that he had given Ottley his start.
In New York, he worked with the city Housing Authority and in law and insurance offices. He joined the V.I. Public Affairs Council, a civic group with political lobbying clout.
He returned home in 1962 to accept an invitation from Gov. Ralph M. Paiewonsky to serve as deputy commissioner of Education.
In 1963, he began his almost 20-year affiliation with the College of the Virgin Islands as it opened. He was adjunct professor of business, assistant to the business manager, registrar, director of admissions, for eight years a member of the board of trustees, and a trustee of the UVI Foundation. Kean said they often were involved together in "discussions and deliberations that shaped the university." Watlington was, Kean said, "a very big advocate for staff and students."
Watlington retired from the college in 1982, but he did not retire from public or private life, continuing his service on the Board of Education, which began in 1972, until he did not seek re-election in 1992.
He served the Anglican/Episcopalian All Saints church in many roles: acolyte, master of ceremonies, Sunday school teacher, vestryman, rector's warden, and member and chair of the parish school board. He continued to attend Sunday services until his health forbade it.
He held many memberships in community and professional organizations; The 1992 edition of Ruth Moolenaar's "Profiles of Outstanding Virgin Islanders" lists the Boy Scouts of America, the Home Guard, the Civil Defense Corps, the Advisory Committee on Public Television, the National School Board Association and many more. He became a charter member of the St. Thomas Lions Club in 1967 and was active for many years; the Lions honored him in 1987 at a testimonial dinner.
Tennis was a major love of his life, and he was an early promoter of the sport in the islands. He continued to play into his seventies and was often seen walking from town to Sub Base, tennis racquet under his arm. The Wallace-Watlington Tennis Tournament honors him. He prized a picture of himself with tennis professional Arthur Ashe, whom he met at a U.S. Open.
He attended the U.S. Open tournaments for many years, the last time in 2000. His son recalled his disappointment when failing health prevented his traveling to the 2001 event.

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