Lou Watson in Reflection on International Women’s Day

When leaders at The Village of Taunton Mills in Whitby were asked to name a woman in the Village who is an inspiration to them in honour of International Women’s Day, Lou (Lila Mae) Watson’s name was high upon their list of many.

Lou sits before her beloved piano in her suite, in mid-laughter. Lou has been an active member of the Taunton Mills community in the nine years she’s lived there and in sitting down for a conversation with her, it quickly becomes clear why she was top of mind when the team was thinking of remarkable women within the Village. To meet Lou is to come face to face with the truthful notion that the size and stature of a person matters not when it comes to their ability to earn respect and inspire the future. She may be a slight woman in her 90s today, but her crisp intellect and her recounting of a remarkable life in the service of community through education is inspirational, to say the least.

She studied business in the early 50s and worked for IBM when the mammoth tech giant was at the forefront of foundational computer technology. She was the first woman to hold the title of engineering analyst at IBM, and she smiles when she explains how that confounded some of the men in management positions.

One of the first men she had to interview was the manager of the typewriter department.

“He was very hesitant,” Lou recalls. “ ‘Why are you here?”’ he asked, so I told him.” His initial reaction was to go and speak with her manager, Jack.

“ ‘No need to talk to Jack,’ I said. ‘I’m here,’ and he kind of looked at me; I don’t think any woman had ever talked to him like that.”

The was the 1950s, keep in mind, so in line with company policy, Lou was forced to resign once she married.

She would eventually go to Teacher’s College so she could begin developing the minds of countless young people before eventually moving into administration. She earned an undergraduate degree with a focus on Political Science and later a Master’s in Education Administration; by the time she was a vice-principal, principal and, eventually, a superintendent, she was often the only woman in the room at large conferences.

Throughout her career in education, she commanded the respect of hundreds upon hundreds of students and colleagues, and would be asked to lead the development of provincial education policy long after she retired. Well into her 80s, she remained as busy – if not busier – than she was in her mid-life years. She continues to be honoured today, looking ahead to an event at the end of March where she will speak about her role in founding Scarborough's Progress Career Planning Institute in Scarborough. 

“I’ve always had a full life,” Lou says as she looks out on a beautiful early march afternoon from her suite at Taunton Mills. “I can’t sit still and I don’t do it for personal gain; I just always have to have a challenge.”

She remains active today and within the Village she has helped lead the Residents’ Council as president, has attended international conferences on the evolution of senior’s care, she’s advised Schlegel Villages as a guest of the organization’s Operational Planning retreat, and she counts the organization’s leaders as friends.

Perhaps the greatest testament to Lou’s impact on her community is the number of students who remain in touch with her, some of whom she taught as far back as the early 60s. Two ladies came to visit her in late 2023; she’d taught them in Grade 8 decades before and at one point when they mentioned that Lou was always their favourite teacher, she asked them why.

“We know you cared,” came the simple reply.

Lou is humble as she recounts a remarkable life, but does offer some advice to the young women of today as they move into an uncertain future.

“In my case, we had to open the doors,” Lou says, “but today, the doors are open. Anything is attainable, but don’t expect it just because you are a woman. You have to meritorious; you have to be able to do the job, you must have the aptitude, the qualifications and you must earn it.”

Beyond that, the opportunities for an exciting future are plentiful.