Cristi Watson practically fell into her job as executive director of KP Community Services in the fall of 2001 after the attacks of Sept. 11 brought a hiring freeze on civilian military hiring—and an end to her budget analyst job with the Army a day before she was to start.
The usually bubbly and outspoken redhead was at a loss for words when she walked to deliver her remarks. “I don’t think I’ve ever been speechless before,” she told the audience of about 200. “There are so many wonderful people who do so much for this community. You may not think about the little things you do but they mean so much to this community.”
Watson’s own list of contributions would fill several pages. Her smiling face and upbeat presence can
be noticed at everything from the various KPCS functions to community boards and volunteer events. Which is why, perhaps, her next two months will be packed with hundreds of hugs and good-bye notes: Watson announced to the KPCS board in March that she is leaving at the end of May.
“We have come so far since she’s been here,” board President Bud Ulsh said. “It’s not an easy job at all.” Ulsh recalled a board member saying a while back, “What would we ever do when Cristi leaves? It would be so hard to match what she did.”
Despite her struggle with multiple sclerosis for 25 years, Watson has immersed herself into her job, working full time hours or more on part-time pay. Wanting to make sure the organization is represented on the various local boards and task forces, she volunteered herself to participate in everything from the crime task force to the Pierce County community planning board for KP.
“Nobody can go it alone,” she said. “You have to work together.” She has followed that belief by looking for ways to partner with groups like Communities in Schools, KP Family Resource Center, Tacoma Community College and others.
Watson said she’ll miss the people the most. She has certainly met—and helped—many at KPCS, which she calls “Ground Zero.” “You do a lot of soul searching out here. You help those you can, and for those you can’t, you say a prayer at the end of the day,” she said.
Watson was not a stranger to people in need when she arrived on the Key Pen. In Idaho, where she lived all her life before moving west, she had once started a nonprofit for kids at risk. Even as she hasn’t yet moved to Newport, where her two sons and their families live, she has already found a need she’d like to fill there: There is no senior center in the city.
Asked if she were leaving any unfinished business behind, she exclaimed, “Heavens, yes!” Yet taking the time off to see her family in Oregon has been getting tougher, and her sons have been trying to coerce her for months to move into their large, beautiful house.
“I miss my family. I miss my kids,” Watson said. “Life is short. There is a surfboard in Newport with my name on it.”
On the Key Peninsula, there are many things that will hold her name, and many people and causes that will feel her absence. But while she’s leaving behind many memories and unfinished things, she is taking the most important part, the recognition for the works she’s done. “Getting citizen of the year is the biggest accomplishment of my life,” she said. “Never in a million years did I expect it. I am new, a novice. Those people (other nominees) paid their dues.”
Those who know her see past her modesty. “She has done marvelous things and everybody likes her,” Ulsh said. “It was a good thing to end with.”