Hattie Watts Johnson

[ Age 60 ] She cared for the sick and elderly despite poor health.

October 29, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,SUN REPORTER

Hattie Watts Johnson, a lifelong West Baltimore resident who spent more than 20 years caring for the homebound sick and elderly even as she battled brain cancer herself, died Oct. 20 of complications from the disease. She was 60.

Hattie Watts grew up in the Edgar Allan Poe Homes on Lexington Street. Like many of her friends, she enjoyed going to the movies and dancing. But while most of her six brothers and sisters were playing, she would be at the homes of elderly neighbors, spending afternoons helping them with grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and bathing, said her younger sister, Doretha Beckham, 53, of Ellicott City.

"Hattie just had a connection to the elderly, especially if they didn't have family," Ms. Beckham said. "Where the rest of us would kind of be squeamish, she just wanted to take care of people."

Mrs. Johnson attended Douglass High School for two years but struggled because of an undiagnosed learning disability, Ms. Beckham said. She dropped out in the 10th grade.

At 16, she had her daughter, Sandi, and worked long hours at a Baltimore-Washington International Airport restaurant and later on the van assembly lines at the now-closed Broening Highway General Motors plant. When she wasn't working, she was in and out of the hospital for problems with chronic bronchitis.

In 1980, she married Garnett Johnson. He had two daughters from a previous marriage, and she raised them as her own. Mr. Johnson died in February.

"Family was really important to her," said her daughter, Sandi Cooper of Baltimore.

Ms. Johnson spent the past 20 years as a home health care provider, assisting the sick and elderly. She worked extra shifts and often stayed late with her patients when family members or nurses were late arriving .

Later in life, her daughter joined her in the same line of work. "She treated them like they were her own family, and they treated her like family," Ms. Cooper said.

Relatives said Mrs. Johnson worked long shifts even after her brain cancer was diagnosed a decade ago. Over the past five years, she had three surgeries, but went back to work within a month of the first two even though she felt weak. The third surgery this summer left her unable to work, said Ms. Beckham.

Services were Thursday at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In addition to her sister and her daughter, survivors include another sister, Valerie Dana of Denver; two brothers, Horace Frank Watts and Maurice Watts, both of Baltimore; two stepdaughters, Lisa and Karen Johnson, both of Baltimore; and seven grandchildren.

ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

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