Gene Watson passed away in Centennial, Wyoming, on January 24, 2019. (Following an adventure where the ambulance bringing him home from the hospital strayed and became solidly lodged in a snowdrift. As he often pointed out, however…”Hey, it’s where we live!”)
Gene was born to Henry and Lois (Wyckoff) Watson on December 31, 1927, in Sacramento, California (long before the date of his arrival would have had any tax consequences for his father). The middle child of three, he led his father a merry chase, secretly buying and driving a Model T to deliver papers when he was fourteen. During the early days of the war, he “exaggerated” his number of years on the planet and was hired first, in a brewery and then in a shipyard, where he learned to weld. His mother put a quick end to his brewery employment when she was informed.
Gene served in both the Navy and the Army, the former as a volunteer and the latter because the draft board lost his records and drafted him into the Army. (He was unable to persuade any of his buddies to visit the Army recruiter with him and vouch for the fact that they’d served alongside him in the Navy.) This second opportunity for military service proved fortuitous, however, as Gene was discovered to be reasonably bright and sent to the Army Guided Missile School in Fort Bliss, Texas, where he was introduced to the wonders of technology and later became an instructor.
Despite a degree in economics from University of San Francisco, he followed the now-fascinating trail of technology and joined Palo Alto-based Varian Associates and then Spectra-Physics, where he was instrumental in helping the company expose the first commercial gas laser products to an unsuspecting but wildly responsive user group. Gene left Spectra-Physics and became the organizing founder of Coherent, Inc., where he and a devoted start-up team of physicists and engineers developed and marketed the first commercial gas ion and CO2 lasers, which today are part of so many miraculous and useful products.
He also took time out to sail the Pacific and the Caribbean, owned a Piper Aircraft dealership in Phoenix and together with friends from the laser industry was active in the preservation and restoration of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in northern New Mexico. He remained involved in the burgeoning laser industry and founded or co-founded several additional technology-based companies.
Gene was a lifelong supporter of start-up and entrepreneurial efforts in California, New Mexico and, especially, Wyoming and spent much of his time mentoring, tutoring, badgering and advising young business and technology entrepreneurs.
He is survived by his wife, Diane and his brother, Warne, of Centennial and a sister, Laurel Sparks of Lake Havasu City. His grateful family requests that anyone wishing to remember Gene join them in supporting Hospice of Laramie or the Centennial Valley Volunteer Fire Department.