Patricia Lakin Watson: Outstanding service to Knox County

Dr. Jim TumblinFountain City

Many who were students at Smithwood Grammar School in the 1930s and 1940s will remember Mr. Lakin, the tall, kindly, highly effective principal of the school.

Hubert DeKalb Lakin (1906-1979) grew up in the Graveston community of Knox County and attended elementary school there, then graduated from Gibbs High School. Before he had completed his college education, Lakin taught at Union, Thorn Grove and Carter elementary schools (1926-1930). Then he became the principal at Alice Bell (1930-1934) and Inskip (1934-1935).

The 29-year-old educator became principal at Smithwood Grammar School in 1935. Although he was still very young, he had been elected the president of the Knox County Teacher’s League in that same year.

But with World War II raging in Europe and the Pacific in December 1943, Mr. Lakin joined the Army at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, and served from 1943-45 in the European Theater and in the Southwest Pacific. He entered as a private, but his superior service record earned him the title of staff sergeant before his enlistment was over.

When Mr. Lakin returned as an ex-GI, he entered the University of Tennessee to complete his bachelor’s degree. He again became principal at Smithwood from 1947-49. It was during this time that he worked closely with the school board, the PTA and the prominent architectural firm of Baumann and Baumann to design the new school. The new building, dedicated on March 31, 1950, had 15 classrooms, an auditorium-gymnasium, cafeteria, clinic and many other features designed for the comfort and convenience of the pupils and faculty.

Eventually, when the school closed, most of the students were consolidated into the new Shannondale Elementary School.

In the mid-1950s, Mr. Lakin again returned to UT and earned a master’s degree. He was principal at the combined Gibbs High and Gibbs Elementary schools from 1949-54 and principal at Fountain City Elementary School from 1954-58.

From 1958-71, he taught history at Halls High School. Having served the Knox County schools for 38 years, he retired on March 6, 1971.

H.D. Lakin was married to the former Verna Smith and they made their home at 212 Hillcrest Ave. in Fountain City. Mrs. Lakin became an eighth-grade teacher at Inskip Elementary School where she taught for over 25 years. They were parents to two daughters, Vanda Jane (CHS 1951), who married Roger Thayer and taught in Kingsport for over 25 years, and Patricia (CHS 1957), who married Jack Watson and became director of the Knox County libraries.

Patricia later recalled that, as a 5-year-old in a period before kindergarten programs were available, she often sat in her mother’s classroom with her books, her paper dolls and her coloring book. Her mother had offered to resign to be an at-home mother, but the principal wanted to keep his proven eighth-grade teacher and asked if she could not just bring Patricia to school with her.

Verna Lakin had been the first in her family to graduate from high school and pursued her college degree for several years, even as she raised her family and taught school. The inspiration she gained from her parents and her early start in academics launched Patricia Lakin Watson’s impressive career.

After graduating from Smithwood Grammar School and Central High School, she attained a degree in political science and sociology and was the University of Tennessee’s top liberal arts graduate in 1961. She returned for a master’s degree in library science in 1975.

After working in the technical services department of the library and as an administrative assistant, she became head librarian at the West Knoxville Branch of the Lawson McGhee Library in 1979. The west branch had long been the largest in the system with a circulation of 14-18,000 books per month as early as 1983. When Paul Bartolini retired in 1985, Watson was chosen as director of the library system.

At the time of her retirement 17 years later, her responsibilities had included supervising the main library, the Knox County Archives, the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection and 17 branch libraries. As a result of her leadership the system accomplished these outstanding achievements during the last few years before her retirement:

  • Construction of new library buildings at Cedar Bluff, Carter, West Knoxville, Farragut and Karns and new branches at Bonny Kate and Cedar Bluff, with plans and authorization for new libraries in Halls and Fountain City, plus the expansion of the Knox County Archives and McClung Historical Collection at the East Tennessee History Center which was already under construction. Almost $10 million had been appropriated for planning and construction since 1995.
  • Planning and implementing the conversion of the library system’s card catalog and information system to an Internet-compatible computerized system at an investment of more than $1 million.
  • Building circulation to more than two million items for three consecutive years.

While supervising that rapid growth and technological improvement, Patricia Watson also served as a board member and later as president of the Tennessee Library Association, spearheaded the establishment of the Friends of Tennessee Libraries, served in a Leadership Knoxville class, as a board member of the Tanasi Girl Scout Council and as an elder at Farragut Presbyterian Church. She was also the regular pianist for the Knoxville Rotary Club.

Truly, Fountain City’s Lakin family made a very significant contribution to both the Knox County schools and libraries and left a lasting legacy in the community to serve future generations.

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