WINGHAM – Valerie Watson, the much-loved early childhood educator and manager of the North Huron Children’s Centre, announced her retirement earlier this summer.
Her 35-year career in childcare officially comes to an end in December, but many believe she will continue to be a voice in the community and remain an advocate for the children and their families.
“You’re an inspiration to all of us,” said a co-worker of Watson in a tribute to the childcare manager that was displayed in her office.
Full of photos and children’s artwork, Watson’s office was welcoming and warm and she was quick to talk about the priceless memories and precious moments that she has shared with all who pass through her door.
Smiling fondly, tears welled up when she spoke of the ones who were no longer with us, the memories of those children were alive in her stories. Echoes of children’s laughter and love, plus the sounds of the current students’ happiness from outside of her office, mingled together with the memories.
“Besides always loving children and having enjoyed them my entire life,” it was a volunteer placement at the childcare centre in Wingham when she was in high school, at the suggestion of her guidance councillor. That made her to realize she loved it and her career began to fall into place.
Watson graduated from the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program at Conestoga College and other than a short time working for the County of Huron, helping with a childcare initiative there, she spent her entire career in North Huron.
Working with the children who passed through the doors at the daycare has filled her days with love and laughter, and she will miss them the most.
“They fill me up,” she said,
“I love them… the best part of the job is watching the children learn and develop that relationship with their teachers.”
Watson said working with the children and the families will be what she misses the most.
“The kids I have now are the children of the parents that I had here,” Watson said, “This is such a great community.”
Born in Bluevale and spending her entire adult life in Brussels, the local hero also raised four children, who are now grown with families of their own. Her social media page is full of family photos, filled with love and laughter.
Watson plans to spend her first little while in retirement basking in the love of her grandchildren. With three of them and two more on the way, she anticipates a very full life in retirement, still filled with children.
She did say that she would likely be back in some part-time capacity, at some point, but for now, she is looking forward to that time with her family.
Diane Millian has been a part of Watson’s work-family for 28 years and will miss seeing her smiling face around the office.
They met when Millian was a co-op student and Watson was still a classroom educator.
She said what she will miss the most is also what she loves the most about Watson – “Her passion for all children and their families.”
Millian went on to say, “She always looks to provide the best service and the best connections for them.”
She added that “her curiosity and her determination to make early childhood education a priority in her community.”
Watson has been in this line of work for many years and has seen many changes but still pushes for advancement, growth, and recognition of early childhood education, according to Millian.
“I think that is something that is still not recognized as an important contribution to the community and young children’s lives, she continues to strive and push for that, even as she’s heading into retirement and she will likely continue well after retirement, promoting this line of work and this field.”
North Huron Reeve Bernie Bailey holds a special place in his heart for the beloved educator and wanted to recognize Watson for her extra care and compassion for him and his children after his first wife passed away.
“I was a widower and I had a kid that was 18 months old and one that was three-years-old and I walked those guys into the daycare for the first time after their mom had passed on,” recalled Bailey.
Bailey said they were greeted by Watson and a co-worker (who eventually became his second wife) with great big smiles and warm hugs.
Choking back his emotion, Bailey said, “Everybody knew the circumstances and they just picked those kids up; they were part of the family.”
“Val was there. She was always happy and always help for the kids and if there was anything wrong, she would call me so I could come down and take care of it,” he added.
“For all these years she has just been a steady light, like a lighthouse, for everybody to go to and get taken care of… The best thing about Val is that you know where she stands. Parents could depend on her, she was really good, the children loved Val, her staff supported her, and she supported her staff.
“She didn’t just sit in her office, she got out there and went that extra mile. It’s going to be hard to fill her shoes.”
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times