Donald E. Lawton

March 14, 2017  
WATERTOWN, N.Y.  —  Donald E. Lawton, 80,  civic leader and 1967 winner of the Israel Shapiro award as Watertown’s Citizen of the Year, died on March 14, 2017, at Samaritan Keep Home, where he resided for two and a half years.

He was employed by the Watertown Daily Times for more than 40 years as a copy editor, reporter and consultant in the editorial room.

Mr. Lawton was born Nov. 26, 1936, in Watertown, son of John Stewart and Edrienne Watson Lawton. His father, a native of Evans Mills, was an officer of the Agricultural Insurance Co. and died in Watertown on Aug. 23, 1973, at the age of 76. His mother, a native of Goderich, Ontario, died in Watertown on March 30, 1992, at age 92. His mother was the wartime director of the Watertown United Service Organization clubs during World War II and the Korean War. She also was president of the Episcopal Church Women of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York. On his father’s side the Lawton family was related to Nathan Evans, the founder of Evans Mills. On his mother’s side a great-great-great-great-grandfather Col. Jonas Watson, fought with the British forces at Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary War and in 1787 and 1788 was the British commandant of Fort Niagara.

Mr. Lawton attended Watertown schools and was a June 1954 graduate of Watertown High School where he was an honor student and member of the National Honor Society. He graduated in 1958 from Middlebury (Vt.) College, where he majored in English and European history. He was a member of the Blue Key national men’s honor society and received the Bishop Atwood historical award at graduation. He also was a member of the varsity soccer team and was a letterman. He was a member of Kappa Delta Rho fraternity. He did graduate work toward his master’s degree in American history at the University at Buffalo.

Mr. Lawton married the former Jean Louise Nicholson, daughter of Maitland J. and Dorothy Allen Nicholson, on April 16, 1960, in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Watertown, with the Rev. Robert J. Sudlow, rector, officiating. Mrs. Lawton was employed as a nurse for Dr. John E. Scanlon, Watertown ophthalmologist, for 29 years and later with the Watertown Eye Center for more than five years, retiring in June 1997.

He served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 1958 to 1964. Mr. Lawton joined the staff of the Watertown Daily Times in September 1959 and was a reporter until 1971, when he joined the editorial copy desk. He covered Camp Drum and other military groups, state government agencies and sports events during his reporting time. He was on the copy desk for more than 24 years.

He retired from the Times on March 31, 1996. At a retirement dinner in March 1996 he was presented with certificates from the state Senate and Assembly recognizing his civic service. He worked with the Times on a part-time basis after his retirement doing advance obituaries and North Country Remembered material.

Among the organizations Mr. Lawton was prominent in were the Watertown Urban Mission, the Jefferson County and Black River Valley Red Cross chapters, Syracuse Regional Red Cross Blood Program, the New York State and Thousand Islands preliminaries to the Miss America Pageant and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Mr. Lawton was active in civic affairs. He was selected as the winner of the Israel Shapiro award as Watertown’s Citizen of the Year in 1967 at age 31.He was a warden of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s. He served several terms on the vestry and was a member of the choir for more than 38 years and also served as a lector. He wrote the 100th anniversary history of the parish in 1967 and the 125th anniversary history in 1992 and was chairman of the parish’s 130th anniversary observance in June 1997.He also was chairman of the parish’s centennial observance in 1967. He was chairman of the parish’s historic committee which helped the church attain listings on the national and state registers of historic places in the spring of 1997. Mr. Lawton also served for four years as a representative for St. Paul’s Church, Watertown, on the board of the Shared Episcopal Ministry of Northern New York Council, which consisted of St. Paul’s Church, Brownville, Christ Church, Sackets Harbor, and St. John’s Church, Black River.

Mr. Lawton was active in the Jefferson County and later Black River Valley chapter of the American Red Cross for 30 years. He was chapter chairman from 1964 to 1966. He served as chairman of the Watertown blood program committee for 26 years and headed the overall blood program policy committee. He received the George E. Cox award as the chapter’s Volunteer of the Year in 1987.Mr. Lawton served as chairman of the executive and regional committees of the Syracuse Red Cross blood program in the 1970s and was chairman of the Northern New York blood bank district.

Along with Joan M. Jones, Mr. Lawton headed the committee that brought the Miss New York State preliminary to the Miss America Pageant to Watertown in the fall of 1979.  He was the first president and executive director of the organization and a member of the organization’s board of directors and executive committee since the pageant came to Watertown. Before being involved with the state Miss America preliminary, he was the executive director of the Miss Thousand Islands preliminary to the state and national Miss America events for 13 years. He was presented with an award from the state committee for 31 years’ service to the Miss America pageant preliminary in Watertown in June 1997. He also received an award for his service from the national pageant in January 1998.

Mr. Lawton served as president of the Greater Watertown Jaycees in 1964-65. He was the recipient of the Jaycees’ Distinguished Service award in 1965. He was a member of the Jefferson County and Watertown City Republican committees. He served as Jefferson County chairman of the MORE committee for the re-election of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller in 1962, was co-chairman of the campaign committee in Jefferson County for H. Douglas Barclay when he won election to the state Senate in 1964, was co-chairman of the re-election committee in Jefferson County for U.S. Sen. Kenneth Keating in 1964 and was a delegate to the New York State GOP convention in 1962.He was a member of the South Jefferson Lions Club and served as third vice president and a director. He also was a director of the Watertown Lions Club.

Mr. Lawton was chairman of the Preservation and Restoration committee in Watertown for the national bicentennial observance in 1976. He and his committee wrote the Historic Homes of Watertown book sponsored by the Watertown Rotary Club for the bicentennial.

Mr. Lawton served as chairman for Middlebury College’s participation in the annual Higher Education Night and was chairman of the committee for Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties that handled the interviewing of prospective students applying to Middlebury.

Mr. Lawton was a director of the Greater Watertown Chamber of Commerce and was active in United Way. He served as president of the Watertown Urban Mission in 2002 and 2003 and was a member of the board of directors for several years. The Urban Mission made its move to its new home in the Halley building on Factory Street during the final months of his term as president. The Urban Mission observed its 35th anniversary of service to Watertown and vicinity in June 2003, while Mr. Lawton was president.

He is survived by his wife Jean, a sister , Mary L. Frohe and her son Timothy, a brother, J. Keith Lawton and his children, Ian, Jon, Andrea and Leanne, a brother-in-law James Nicholson, a nephew Robert (Kathy)Nicholson and their children, Andy and Shawn, a niece Kathy (Chris) Masi and their children, Christopher, Libby and Joshua.

Calling hours will be 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 19, at D.L. Calarco Funeral Home, Inc. A prayer service will be held o10:15 a.m. Monday at the funeral home followed by a funeral service at 11 a.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church with Rev. Dr. Richard Laribee officiating. Burial will be in the spring in Brookside Cemetery. 

Contributions may be made to Trinity Episcopal Church, 227 Sherman Street, or to the Watertown Urban Mission, 247 Factory Street, both in Watertown, NY 13601.

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Information provided by D.L. Calarco Funeral Home and, Watertown.