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Madame Bouju 's elegant salons, complete with cages of ornamental
singing canaries.



Chapter Seven lli

Watkin was granted access to several rare library collections soon
after being received at the Hotel-de-Ville, collections he hoped to
have time to concentrate on. Tickets to the Opera Comique, which
Ray, Rosemary, and Billy particularly enjoyed, were sent to their
hotel. Arrangements were made for their father to meet some of the
leaders of French architecture.

On December 19, 1928, Watkin wrote President Lovett: "I have
just had sufficient start in getting notes together and in finding the
open welcome in Paris which I would eventually need, to long to
stay till next August. But as it is, I can only see three or four more
weeks here, with all the daylight hours occupied in trips to the
hospital and care of the children. I will simply have to hope for a
later chance."

Watkin did not want the children to know how critically ill their
mother had become, in order that the more and more frequent visits
to the hospital would be made in an aura of cheerfulness. Christmas
had been spent in Versailles at the Trianon Palace Hotel. But in
January, Watkin had rented a large apartment on the Avenue de
Neuilly, in a private hotel only a few blocks from the American
Hospital. Mrs. Watkin, quite homesick, talked constantly of wanting
to return to Texas; this would not be possible unless she showed
substantial improvement.

The children, obviously much distressed by their mother's illness,
tried to remain cheerful during their frequent visits to the hospital.
One of the best means of doing this was to tell Annie Ray of their
various excursions around Paris with Madame Guerard, Albert
Joseph, and Tante Marie. The Opera Comique combined enchanting
music and drama. There they saw Bizet's Carmen, their first opera,
and Maurice Ravel's L' Enfant et les Sortileges (described as "an
edifying and hilarious fantasy of a child"). The box seats, those of
Mayor Bouju himself, were the best in the house, high above the
orchestra. They also allowed whispered translations from Mrs.
Guerard, explaining pantomime when necessary, without disturbing
other viewers. At other times, there was skating for the children on
the frozen ponds in the Bois de Boulogne while wearing snug winter
coats from the Old England store. Yet what the young Watkins
enjoyed most of all, never to forget, was seeing their first snow
drifting down upon the gardens and rooftops of Paris.



224 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

Many years later, Albert Joseph Guerard wrote of his winter in
Paris, recalling his romantic fantasies at age 14:

"The sacred love for me, against the terrible and tempting
profane, was the girl [Rosemary Watkin] whose mother was -
dying in the American Hospital, gentle and lovely, perhaps
twelve, with the soft Houston voice I had begun to forget. From
the turmoil and guilt and excitement of Paris I would go to their
apartment in Neuilly for tea, a green and placid district near the
hospital. There was an older sister, she beautiful too, and a
younger brother. We had excursions to the Bois de Boulogne: a
row on the lake, and a ride on the little train with its open cars
threading the woods from the Porte Maillot to the zoo. We saw
a few last horse-drawn carriages and footmen on the Avenue du
Bois and Avenue des Acacias whose vanishing Proust lamented.

"The distraught father, a rather austere personage for me, was
not much in evidence . "

During those months in Paris, the Watkins were grateful for the
presence of Claude Hooton, one of Watkin 's 1927 graduates in
architecture who was working on his master's degree. Hooton would
succeed Milton McGinty as the second traveling scholar the next
year. This personable young architect would later join the faculty at
Rice. While in Paris, he was helpful to Professor Watkin in arranging
appointments, and also in library research. He also served as a tutor
of young Billy Watkin, aged 9. It was decided that he would be
tutored in order to not drop behind his class at Kinkaid.

On the other hand, Ray and Rosemary were somewhat advanced
academically for their age group at Kinkaid, and so it was decided
that they would simply not attempt to keep up their normal school-
work for the year.

Annie Ray Watkin continued to have the very best in medical
attention and care. Edgar Odell Lovett, who had many friends at
Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, had been in contact with specialists at
that renowned medical and training center. President Lovett sug-
gested that, if feasible, Mrs. Watkin be brought to Johns Hopkins
Hospital for consultation and treatment.



Chapter Seven 225

It so happened that Dr. Massod, the French specialist in charge of
Mrs. Watkin's case, was scheduled to sail for Baltimore in mid- Janu-
ary, to deliver a series of lectures at Johns Hopkins. Watkin replied to
President Lovett that "if no further improvement occurs, I am tempted
to sail on [the same] boat [in order] to have his service amid the trials
of [a] midwinter Atlantic passage." But this was not possible.

Watkin continued to leave no stone unturned in the hope of getting
his wife on the road to recovery. At the American embassy in Paris,
he sought the help of the U.S. ambassador, Myron T. Her rick.
Herrick was able to obtain the services of Dr. Charles de Martel, one
of France's outstanding surgeons, well known internationally.

Watkin wrote President Lovett on January 16, 1929, of later
developments in the case. Another specialist had concluded after a
series of X-rays that Mrs. Watkin did not, as feared, require surgery
for the removal of gallstones. The specialist "feels [that] in one
month's time he can have her quite well enough to travel home in
safety and comfort. I hope we are not too optimistic and we can all
be safely back in February. I will be most glad to be there."

As January turned into Paris' typical gray and overcast February,
it became apparent that Watkin's optimism had indeed been mis-
placed. Annie Ray had become steadily weaker, in spite of the very
best medical attention available. An English nurse, devoted to her
patient, had continued to provide excellent care in the tradition of the
American Hospital.

Dr. de Martel saw that the only resort was major surgery, on a
patient with littie remaining strength. In an era when modern
techniques of blood transfusion had not yet been developed, there
were no really effective emergency procedures to counter weakness
during surgery. Annie Ray Watkin knew that the operation had little
chance of success. She wanted that chance, nevertheless, and the
opportunity to return home— to be back in Texas with her dear
husband and children.

The surgery was scheduled for the very end of February 1929. A
few days before, Annie Ray wrote a very special letter to Ray, her
firstborn:



226 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

THE AMERICAN HOSPITAL OF PARIS 63 Boulevard Victor
Hugo Neuilly Sur-Seine Telephone: Adresse Telegraphique
CARNOT 51-32, AMHOSPMA 51-32-33-34-35-36, Neuilly-
Sue-Seine

My dear little girl:

I am sick and may not get well so I want to write you a note.
The hardest part of leaving is in the thought of being separated
from Daddy and my dear children. But we must have faith in
God's promises and know we will meet again.

You have always been dear and sweet as well as conscientious
in your studies. I hope you will continue to be interested in your
school work as a good education means so much to a woman. If
you have the physical strength I hope you will go to college.
Always remember that your health comes first, as there is not
much in life without it. While you are not sick, you are not very
strong, and can't do the foolish things lots of stronger girls can.

Be a good Christian woman, kind and thoughtful of others —
always be modest and never do anything you would not want to
tell Mother. Take good care of Daddy and remember he is your
best friend. You can ask him anything and tell him anything.
And dear do help with your brother and sister as much as you
can. Be patient with them and set them a good example. They
both have sweet lovable dispositions and can be managed only
with kindness and reason. Closeness too and great love for your
brother and sister will give you much happiness in life which you
would not get otherwise. My sister was so much pleasure to me
and I always regretted I could not get closer to my brother. He
always seemed so much older than I.

Be kind and considerate of your grandmother and remember
old people are set in their ways. Always try to do what is right
in the very best way you can and you will be a wonderful
woman, as you have a fine mind. Daddy is the finest of men and
try to do what he says even if you don't always understand the
reason. I love you very, very much, dear, and remember if you
ever have any children and it seems hard, how much they will
mean to you afterward. You will be repaid for your suffering a
hundredfold. My children mean everything to me. They make



Chapter Seven 111

life very happy indeed. Again I want to tell you much I love you
my baby.

(P.S.): I will write Sis and Sonny soon.

Mother

Dr. de Martel found what he had feared, soon after the operation
began at the American Hospital: a malignant tumor of the pancreas.
Mrs. Watkin died less than a week later, on March 2, 1929, Texas
Independence Day.

One of the first messages of sympathy came from Edgar Odell
Lovett, who received the sad news by cable: "Trustees, faculty and
students join in sincerest sympathy. Please cable plans." A small
private funeral was held for Annie Ray in the chapel of Paris'
beautiful Episcopalian American Cathedral. Mrs. Guerard and Al-
bert Joseph were there with Claude Hooton and Mile. Oelker.
Representatives of Ambassador Herrick and doctors and nurses of the
American Hospital also attended. Friends also included the elderly
Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Twining of the British tea firm, who had been
fellow guests at the Hotel Argencon; as well as the Wormser family,
a Paris banking family who had a summer home in Compiegne.
There the Watkin children had become good friends of the son Oliver,
16, and daughter Nanette, 12.

The Guerards moved into the Hotel Argencon with the Watkins for
the week required to make the necessary arrangements to return
home to Texas. There was plenty of room at the Argencon, with its
spacious apartments. The only other guests in the hotel were Mr. and
Mrs. Harvey Twining.

Stunned with grief, and the realization that he now had the sole
responsibility for three children of ages 13, 11, and 9 thousands of
miles from home, Watkin was near exhaustion. He asked Mile. Oelker
if she would come to Houston for a time to help with the children.
Tante Marie wanted to go. She had become very fond of the girls and
of Billy, and knew that she could help their father. The children liked
her, and Mrs. Guerard had recommended faraway Houston without
endorsing the climate. But at her age, Mile. Oelker explained, it would
be too difficult to be "transplanted." She would either return to the



228 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

Forest of Compiegne, with her French youngsters for the summer, or
she would return to Italy to live with her sister in Arona [7].

When it was clear that Mile. Oelker would not return with the
Watkins to Houston, Watkin next turned to the British nurse who had
attended Annie Ray in the hospital. She also saw the need for
someone to help with the children during the difficult passage across
the Atlantic in late winter. They were likable youngsters, and had
suffered a tragic loss. Further, the nurse had developed an intense
curiosity to see Texas. She agreed to go to Houston with the family.
Claude Hooton also agreed to return on the ship with them.

They sailed from Le Havre, the busy port on the Bay of the
Seine, with hastily arranged accommodations on the S.S. Paris.
Mrs. Watkin's body was aboard. The Atlantic in early March was
cold, icy, and racked with storms, which meant a rough and
uncomfortable voyage. Watkin, heartbroken and totally exhausted,
fell seriously ill with pneumonia during the voyage. The family felt
that the English nurse probably saved his life with her skillful care
and 24 -hour attention.

On arrival in New York City, Watkin was taken from the ship to
the Lincoln Hotel in a wheelchair. An attending physician ruled
against the idea of his continuing to Texas until he had regained his
strength. Convalescence would be a slow process of several weeks. It
would be well into April before he and the children, the nurse, and
Claude Hooton could continue on to Houston.

Annie Ray Watkin's funeral in Houston was held March 16,
without her husband and children, with interment in the family vault
at Forest Park Mausoleum. President Lovett sent this telegram to the
Lincoln Hotel after the final ceremony: "We have just come from
Forest Park. Mrs. Lovett, Adelaide, Captain Baker and I thought
everything most appropriate and impressive. I told your mother that
I shall be seeing you Monday [in New York City]. Many friends and
practically all the trustees and faculty present. Flowers altogether
beautiful and weather perfect."



Chapter Seven 229

rv.

In mid- April 1929, William Ward Watkin was finally able to return
to 5009 Caroline. He was still convalescing, but was steadily regaining
his strength. Nine months had gone by since he and Annie Ray and
children boarded the train for New York City with such anticipation.

As soon as possible, Watkin took the children to the Forest Park
Cemetery to visit Annie Ray's last resting place. They would return
often, on days that had meant much to her and to the family. Watkin
now confronted his many new responsibilities, first of all Ray,
Rosemary, and Billy. Their mother would have wanted her beloved
husband and children to get on with their lives. And she would have
approved completely of one of her husband's very first decisions: that
his mother. Grandmother Watkin, would come to live with the
Watkins at 5009 Caroline. She enjoyed her son and grandchildren,
and they enjoyed her. She gave a sense of stability to the family.

The new term at Kinkaid would not begin until fall, but the three
children began to review the textbooks and outside reading assignments
that they had missed while away. The two girls had missed an entire
academic year while in Europe. Billy, however, tutored by Claude
Hooton, remained in normal progression. All three of the young
Watkins quickly picked up again with their friendships. There was so
much to tell their classmates of their travels, from their rides through
the Forest of Compiegne to having high tea with the mayor of Paris.
Billy told of adding to his stamp collection at the Marche des Timbres
in the Champs d' Elysee, and of seeing his first snow in Paris.

President Lovett knew that Watkin, anxious to return to his
responsibilities at Rice, might be slow in recovering fully from his
bout with pneumonia. He urged moderation, and a gradual return to
his duties. However, by September, Watkin was back at his office in
the Department of Architecture, reviewing the 1928-1929 academic
year with Jimmy Chillman and his other colleagues, asking about
individual students, and planning for the year ahead.

Watkin brought back to the architectural faculty and students a
firsthand report on Milton McGinty and his travels in Europe.
McGinty was now en route to Paris from Florence, where he had been
from December through mid-March of 1929 [8]. Professor Watkin



230 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

had referred to Florence as the center of "new architectural expres-
sion that led the world in the 15th century."

Picking up again as chairman of the Committee on Buildings and
Grounds, Watkin arranged a meeting with Dr. Lovett, primarily to
pursue a recommendation for a formal plan of maintenance of all
campus buildings. He had sent Dr. Lovett such a plan, with accom-
panying budget, before leaving for Europe. He pointed out the need
now for regularly scheduled maintenance of the original physical
plant as it neared its twentieth anniversary. Watkin also arranged for
a conference on the grounds with Tony Martino, the head gardener
who had just returned from Europe himself, on a vacation in Sicily
and Italy followed by a tour of France.

Understandably, Martino and his longtime boss "Mr. Wat" found
problems needing attention. The omnipresent John T. McCants,
Watkin' s dependable friend and colleague, and Martino' s hard-work-
ing crew had continued the excellent care of the grounds during the
interim. Nevertheless, the head gardener's expert eye spotted things
to be done.

The huge azalea bushes that burst into bloom for the annual May
Fete required extra feeding. Martino's fragrant cape jasmine hedges
also needed attention. There were limbs to be pruned from the live
oaks, coming into their dominant grace and beauty after twenty years.

Chairman Watkin had kept in touch with his department during his
nine-month absence through correspondence with President Lovett
and with capable Jimmy Chillman. Soon after returning to the
campus he had several conferences with Chillman. Watkin found that
most minor problems had resolved themselves. There had been
complaints about architectural students singing and "carrying on"
("loudly, most of these times") during chemistry lectures in adjoin-
ing areas of the Chemistry Building. The cross-complaint was that
"noxious fumes" from the chemistry laboratories were often a
problem in much of the second-floor area allotted to the Department
of Architecture. The matter was satisfactorily resolved by a friendly
discussion between Watkin and his good friend Harry Boyer Weiser,
chairman of the Chemistry Department, who was also the newly
appointed dean of the Rice Institute.



Chapter Seven 231

Watkin now returned to teaching his fourth- and fifth-year students.
As the department continued to mature, a record total of eleven were
awarded the fifth-year degree of bachelor of science in architecture. A
new matter arose involving Charles L. Browne, a key member of the
Rice Institute architectural faculty and a young graduate of Paris' Ecole
des Beaux Arts who had been in poor health for more than a year. His
condition had been aggravated by injuries sustained in an automobile
accident during Watkin' s absence in Europe.

Browne, an instructor in construction techniques, had joined the
faculty in 1920. An experienced and effective teacher, Browne,
however, had suffered from illness which he blamed on the Houston
climate.

Complicating the situation further, Browne had been offered a post
at Clemson in South Carolina, which had an excellent architectural
program. Watkin dealt with this problem promptly. After several
meetings with Browne, he began a quiet canvass of available replace-
ments, while marshalling other facts for a report to President Lovett.

Fortunately, the situation changed somewhat in the late summer of
1929. With a new academic year rapidly approaching, Browne
decided not to go to Clemson, after discovering that the climate there
was similar to Houston's. But, reflecting a department accustomed to
openness and frankness, he told Watkin that he would continue to seek
another position, this at a university "in a higher and cooler climate."

Chairman Watkin duly reported the entire matter, including several
related recommendations, to President Lovett in a letter of August 15,
1929. "The problem of [finding] a thoroughly fitted man in construc-
tion with a real sense of its modern significance toward design," he
wrote, "is a difficult and costly one. The only man I have located as
being more able than Browne is at Ann Arbor [University of
Michigan], and wants $4800 [for a nine-month academic year]."
This was well above Charles Browne's salary, at a time when Rice
was beginning to face the reality of the depression and of a reduction
in teaching budgets.

Watkin proposed a resolution that would be fair to everyone
concerned, including Rice Institute and its architectural students.
Two earlier graduates in architecture at Rice would be benefited.



232 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

First of all, Charles Browne would be given a modest salary
increase in recognition of the market for specialists in construction
techniques. Further, Stay ton Nunn would be added to faculty and
awarded a fellowship as a teaching assistant, assigned to teaching one
of the classes in construction. Nunn, a fifth-year graduate at Rice in
1922, was a personable young architect who had spent most of his
seven years in practice in Watkin' s private office in the Scanlan
Building. As noted, he and Clarence Sanford, of the Rice Institute
class of 1919, had been in charge of the office during Watkin's
absence in Europe.

Stayton Nunn had decided to open his own practice. He was also
interested in teaching— his aptitude for it had impressed Watkin— and
he could use the $750 stipend given teaching fellows at Rice. In
addition to Nunn's many other qualities, Watkin was quick to note his
"... most unusually complete construction experience. ' ' He felt that
the young architect "... needs only . . . adjustment of his practical
experience to sound preparation of the required lecture(s) ..."

Charles L. Browne remained and was now content as a result of his
increase in salary and the help from Stayton Nunn. Watkin was
correct in his assessment of Nunn's potential as a teacher. In spite of
the growth of his private practice, Stayton joined the regular Rice
faculty in the early 1930s, and taught construction there for the next
two decades.

Watkin, always looking for opportunities for his graduates, con-
cluded the Browne dilemma by alerting C.A. Johnson, a 1927
graduate, to the vacancy at Clemson. Johnson had been an able
student who had also shown an interest in teaching. Recommended
by Watkin, C.A. was named to a beginning position at Clemson.
However, he greatly missed Texas, and soon returned from Clemson
for an appointment at Texas A&M.

As the 1929-1930 academic year began, Watkin gained steadily in
health and energy and turned to other matters. In a long and
thoughtful letter to President Lovett, Watkin renewed his proposal
from the Committee on Buildings and Grounds for a permanent
campuswide plan of maintenance and depreciation, adequately fi-
nanced. Watkin had told Lovett that he had been greatly impressed
with the policies of the Ministry of Art of the French Government,



Chapter Seven 233

as applied to the careful preservation of the historic French buildings
for active daily use and "... not as antiques preserved for tourists."
Fortunately, portions of Watkin's proposal were finally adopted at
Rice to protect the "architectural quality, soundness and usefulness
for effective service" of a splendid physical plant.

Watkin next became busy with the project to commission and
install an appropriate statue of William Marsh Rice in a central
location on campus, as a memorial to the founder. As early as 1926,
the other trustees had asked Dr. Lovett to begin the search for a
sculptor who could bring forth from stone the unique characteristics
of William Marsh Rice. Lovett consulted Ralph Adams Cram after
preliminary discussions with Watkin. Both were well aware of
Cram's knowledge of the work of many leading American sculptors.

Cram had retained the English master sculptor, John Angel, for the
great, still-unfinished Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York
City. Cram had written Dr. Lovett on December 15, 1926, of Angel's
eight figures in the baptistery of St. John the Divine: ". . . in these
he demonstrates not only brilliant artistic ability, but also an abso-
lutely unique power of characterization. I know of no man who puts
so much vitality and personality into his work ..."

John Angel was born in 181 1 , a native of Newton Abbot, the large
town just northeast of Torquay on Devonshire's Lyme Bay. He
entered art school at age fifteen, graduating from Lambeth School, a
center for instruction in the arts near London's great galleries. The
gold medal of the Royal Academy won Angel his first wide recogni-
tion in 1911. Commissions for memorials in Exeter to the British who
fell in World War I brought him increasing attention. Soon other
commissions, many in the United States, followed.

Within weeks after being consulted in the matter. Cram had
decided to recommend John Angel for the statue of William Marsh
Rice. He wrote President Lovett again on January 10, 1927:

"I have been considering with extreme care the question of the



Online LibraryPatrick James NicholsonWilliam Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute → online text (page 20 of 31)