A Tribute to Dorothy Watts

Remembering the life of Dorothy Watts

By Sharon Cress

Rita Stevens is the Shepherdess sponsor for the Texico Conference.

The Life of Dorothy Watts

Dorothy May Eaton was born in Hilliards, Ohio, on December 4, 1937, to Oliver and Estelle Eaton, third- and fourth-generation Seventh-day Adventists. She was their only child. She attended elementary school in Jackson, Ohio, where her parents were florists. In 1952 she entered Mt. Vernon Academy in Ohio, graduating in 1956. She supported herself in the academy by selling Christian literature every summer.

She enrolled in Washington Missionary College in 1956, became a student leader there, and developed a strong desire to marry a minister. She found this minister in Ron Watts from Canada, who was studying at the SDA Theological Seminary in Takoma Park. They were married on September 6, 1959, and proceeded to Winnipeg, Manitoba to begin a fiftyyear partnership in the Adventist ministry.

They served in district work in Saskatchewan and in full-time evangelism. With her as a partner, Ron was ordained in less than three years in the ministry. They led the conference in additions to membership.

 In 1965, the couple was called to India, where Ron served as Ministerial Director of the South India Union. Dorothy took up elementary teaching in which she had trained. She first taught the children of the overseas missionaries and then became the principal of the International School, which served missionaries of several denominations and USAID personnel. They then went on to serve at a local mission and a Union Mission. While in Bangalore, Dorothy and Ron adopted three Indian children: Stephen, Esther, and David. She also founded “Sunshine Home” for orphaned and abandoned children. During this time she wrote her first morning devotional for children, This Is the Day. Three other devotionals followed along with 23 other books on spiritual topics.

The family returned to North America, and Dorothy taught church school in the Oregon and Michigan Conferences and edited “The World Mission Report” in the GC Church Ministries Department for one year.

In 1988 the family moved to Alaska where Dorothy, as the Conference President’s wife, took special interest in enabling pastors’ wives in their ministry. From 1991 to 1996 she continued this ministry to pastors’ wives in the British Columbia Conference as the president’s wife. In 1997, Dorothy was elected to serve as the Women’s Ministries Director of the General Conference, where she emphasized the development of resources for the women of the church. She enjoyed this work immensely but after only a short time, Ron was called to lead out in the work of Southern Asia. She was then elected as the Associate Secretary of the Southern Asia Division. During this time she developed a program called Adventist Child India to arrange scholarships for worthy children to study in Adventist boarding schools. It was successful from the start.

In 2007, Dorothy learned that she had cancer. She battled this enemy bravely and through much suffering until she succumbed on November 8, 2010.

She leaves to mourn her passing her husband of 51 years, Ron; her children, Stephen, Esther, and David, and their spouses; and six grandchildren: Heather, Shelley, Calvin, Rachel, Bethany, and JoAnna. She plans to meet them again on the Great Resurrection morning at the second coming of our Lord. 

Remembering Dorothy Watts

By Sharon Cress

These last few days of processing Dorothy’s death have been an emotional earthquake. Only our Rock, Jesus Christ, can steady us in this stormy attack from Satan. We can trust Jesus. He has promised to give us His limitless love and compassion when nothing else makes sense.

Right now, we can close our eyes and wish we had Dorothy back or we can open our eyes and see all that she left us. Today I choose for us to focus on what she left us.

Dorothy had the gift of words. The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson also had that gift, and he wrote a tribute I would like to apply to Dorothy:

To laugh often and much
To win the respect of intelligent peopleand the affection of children
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
To endure the betrayal of false friends
To find the best in others
To leave the world a bit better
To know that a life breathed easier because of her reassurance

First, Jesus and Dorothy both loved stories and they both loved to tell stories. Dorothy wrote stories that filled us with wonder about her adventures in India, about people’s miracles, and about finding Jesus Christ in a culture steeped in pagan religions. Many of us would wait eagerly for those emailed stories. We would never have known the influence of Jesus Christ on the lives of these precious ones if Dorothy hadn’t told us.

Dorothy’s godly values were evident both in her writing and in her speaking. Dorothy loved stories, and she creatively crafted the words that told us the stories. Dorothy used words as art—both in speaking and in print—to encourage, enrich, and embellish the lives of thousands of women.

When the Ministerial Association was looking for an author to tell the story of an Adventist who lived the Philippines during World War II, they chose Dorothy. She authored the book Sunrise In Her Heart.

This brings us to the second way Dorothy mirrored Jesus. Dorothy cared for women and their individual and personal needs. Dorothy took the time one-on-one to show her love and concern in her work and service for Women’s Ministries and Shepherdess International.

Dorothy’s devotional messages at retreats were the highlight of many meetings. No one slept in if Dorothy was having the morning service! Her personal counsel was a balm for so many in pain who were looking for spiritual mothering.

Two verses come to mind as most appropriate for Dorothy. The first is from Paul to the Philippians, when he talked about “those whose names (Dorothy) are written in the book of life” 4:13. Then in Isaiah 43:1, God says, “I have saved you, I have called you (Dorothy) by name and you are mine.” 

The Lord verbalizes. He spoke His promise to Dorothy, and one of these days very soon, He will speak to her personally when He calls her from this little sleep.

Thirdly, Dorothy imitated Jesus with her interest in children. Children stuck to Dorothy like chocolate candy on a white dress. Maybe it was because of her wonderful stories. Dorothy valued and loved children so much that she established the Sunshine Orphanage Home so the very least of these would have the necessities and opportunities which you and I take for granted.

Just two weeks ago, significant funds were transferred to India for orphanage projects. The only reason these funds were realized is because Dorothy’s actions so many years ago still inspires hearts today.

Her legacy will continue. Dorothy’s principles were strong and timeless, and they will endure in each one of us she touched.

Dorothy’s death has left a hole in our hearts, and the tears in our eyes are leaking from it. The beautiful flowers here today will fade, but what Dorothy has left us will never fade. She left the gentle footprint of her presence on the hearts of women all around the world.

Matthew 26:13 says: “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will be held as a memorial to her.” These words were spoken about another influential woman who personally served Jesus.

Now, over 2,000 years later, Dorothy’s words, influence, mentoring, and compassion will continue to linger like a fine perfume in the hearts and through the lives of clergy spouses and lay women.

Dorothy’s writings will always nourish the faith of those of us who continue to serve. Proverbs 31 asks, “Who among us has found the virtuous woman? We probably found about as close as we’ll probably get on this earth when we met Dorothy Eaton Watts. The light of Dorothy’s example will never be extinguished from our hearts. She served as Jesus served with her thought-provoking stories, her faithful ministry to women, and her tireless concern for innocent children.

Because she left us a wealth of memories, we now feel so much poorer because of this tremendous loss. But we are closer to Jesus because she was our friend.

Ministers’ wives have a little dialogue when we are tired and weary and know there is little time for sleep or rest before the next task. We often say to each other, “sleep fast, sleep fast.

Tomorrow will be here before you know it.”

So, precious Dorothy, sleep fast, my beloved, sleep fast. Jesus will be here before you know it!!

* Note: Sharon Cress presented this eulogy at Dorothy Watts funeral.

Dear Dorothy

I thank you for your recent letter that I received when I got home. I was still thinking about your previous letter comparing your friends to birds. I loved it. It also made me think of your love for gardens and flowers and how I could compare my friends to flowers. I remember the first time we met. It was at Pine Springs Ranch. I think it was February 1992. You had on a sweatshirt it was bright and it said “Alaska.” You came up to me to let me know who you were and to encourage this beginning conference president’s wife. You became an Alaska Forget-me-not.

Then there is the pansy. It blooms in adversity. Dorothy, you’ve never stopped blooming, even in adversity.

You have been a prolific writer; just like the Arctic Flame Tea Rose that is prized for being reliable and a continuous bloomer.

The brilliant poppies with their knockout display of colors remind me of your knockout ability for organizing women’s ministries.

You’ve been like the “Bleeding Heart” with a heart bleeding for orphans. You were filled with compassion for children who had no place to go, and you were able to find a place for them.

To many you have been the “Mother Hen.” You have watched your numerous baby chicks develop from your nurturing. As Sharon has said and I have repeated, “Dorothy is the Shepherdess of Shepherdess.”

Today as I drove to work, I listened closely to the words of a song, “Jesus, draw us ever nearer. Hold us in your loving arms. Wrap us in your gentle presence. When the end comes, bring us home.” Those words reminded me of the sweet fragrance of the “Rose of Sharon” and the “Lily of the Valley” that you have drawn many of us to through your words.

As I was told that you are not seeing visitors, Dorothy, I thought of Paul’s letter to Timothy. You can join him in that (I paraphrase) “you have done your best in the race, you have run the full distance, and you have kept the faith. And now there is waiting for you the prize of victory awarded for a righteous life, the prize which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give you on that day—and not only to you, but to all those who wait with love for him to appear.”

I’d like to quote another verse that seems to sum up my friendship, and admiration of you and Ron: “I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now.”

First Peter 1:24-25 says, “The human life is like that of a flower: it blooms and is beautiful for a time, but inevitably fades and withers away. By contrast, God is eternal and will never die or fade away.” I look forward to that day when I can come to your garden, that beautiful garden of flowers that will never fade. Thanks so much, Dorothy, for being such a lovely flower in the garden of my heart.

Your friend,