Adventist Women Trailblazing Advocate Kit Watts Dies at 79

She served as Adventist Review assistant editor and in ministerial and publishing roles.

Pat Benton, and Adventist Review
Adventist Women Trailblazing Advocate Kit Watts Dies at 79
Catherine Bea (“Kit”) Watts. [Photo: courtesy of the Watts family]

Catherine Bea (“Kit”) Watts, a longtime Seventh-day Adventist leader who served at Adventist Review and opened ways for women to use their God-given talents in ministry, died November 15 after a long battle with cancer. She was 79.

Since 1973 and for decades, Watts participated in several study groups on the role of women in the Adventist Church, where she advocated for equality of women in ministry through her voice and the research papers she authored.

She became well known throughout the Adventist Church when she served for nearly a decade as assistant editor of the Adventist Review. She wrote on a variety of topics in the then weekly magazine, but her focus was always widening the circle of acceptance for all people. She coordinated four special issues of the magazine featuring topics of concern to women.

Watts was born December 5, 1943, to Carl B. and Lois May (Shepherdson) Watts in Topeka, Kansas, United States. The family lived in the Midwest until the summer of 1955 when Watts, her younger brother Howard, and their parents sailed for Yokohama, Japan, where her parents served as Seventh-day Adventist missionaries — first in Yokohama and then in Okinawa — for the next 18 years.

Watts completed her secondary education at Far Eastern Academy in Singapore in 1961 and enrolled at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, that fall. In 1966, she graduated with a bachelor’s in religion and physical education and minors in education and English.

That fall, Watts stepped aboard a Greyhound bus and headed for Walla Walla, Washington. For the next 2 1/2 years she took journalism classes at Walla Walla College. The summer of 1969, Watts assisted Roberta J. Moore, her major professor, with research for her doctoral dissertation on religious journalism in the U.S., colonial times to the Civil War. Watts fell in love with both American and church history as they researched libraries and church archives.

At the end of that summer, Watts began her first full-time job as an editorial assistant at the Bureau of Public Relations at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC), then located in Takoma Park, Maryland. Her next job was assistant book editor at the Review and Herald Publishing Association, just across the sidewalk from the GC.

In 1973 Watts became the first woman on the pastoral staff of Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, where she served for 5 1/2 years as minister of publications. She spearheaded innovative programs such as the Thanksgiving Festival of Praise and special Christmas and Easter events. She wrote, edited, and published a lively monthly newsletter, Sligoscope.

Even as the youngest member of the Sligo team, she managed to magnify her views about gender inclusiveness. In 1973, she was invited to participate in the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s seminal Role of Women in the Church Study Committee that met at Camp Mohaven in Danville, Ohio. Watts presented a 57-page paper for that assembly. (During her professional lifetime, she was the only invitee to participate in all of the church’s major committees and councils on the role of women.) While working at Sligo, she also studied library and information science at the University of Maryland and earned a master’s degree in 1978.

Before the fall semester 1978, Watts pulled a trailer to Berrien Springs, Michigan, and enrolled in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University (AU), a dream deferred nearly a decade. She began classwork for a second master’s degree, and within a few months split her time between studies and working as periodicals librarian at the James White Library and assistant professor at AU. During this time, Watts and Penny Shell pooled their financial resources and bought a house where they lived for several years along with Watt’s beloved cocker spaniel, Alpha.

Watts was not a charter member of the Association of Adventist Women (AAW) — she was living in Berrien Springs when the organization was birthed in Takoma Park. But she was an early and enthusiastic member and was deeply involved in writing and production for The Adventist Woman. Through its articles, editorials, and photos the quarterly newsletter recorded the challenges and successes as Adventist women reached for equality. In 1992, Watts was selected as a Woman of the Year and honored at the annual AAW conference, held in Orlando, Florida. (She attended 23 consecutive AAW conferences.)

In 1997, Watts accepted a dual role as founding director of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) at La Sierra University in Riverside, California, and in the Southeastern California Conference as assistant to the president for communication. At the WRC she had freedom to create programming and resources that challenged the thinking of university women (and men) and supported women in ministry throughout the North American Division.

When Watts retired in 2007, she moved back to the Walla Walla Valley. Again, she and Penny Shell pooled their resources and bought a country home with two acres in Milton-Freewater where they enjoyed being “Oregon ranchers.” Watts built raised garden beds and an enclosed area for feeding the birds — while keeping the squirrels and resident cats out. She fulfilled another dream when she adopted two burros, Lily and Chaco, who helped keep their enclosed pasture mowed. She traveled the Northwest. She bought and housed and read good books.

Cancer was the long shadow across Watt’s horizon for 15 years. She fought as long and as hard as she could. Just days before her death when her primary care physician was explaining hospice to her, she looked at him from her wheelchair with a dazzling smile. “I think she’s still happy,” said the amazed doctor. And she was.

Watts is survived by her brother, Howard Watts, one nephew, Travis Watts, one niece, Kandice Watts, and a multitude of friends scattered across the continent.

A memorial service is scheduled for December 18 at 10:00 a.m. at the Walla Walla University Church. The service will be broadcast via livestream and can be viewed here. Kendra Haloviak Valentine will give the homily, and Larry Geraty will share a special tribute.

This article was last updated on December 12, 2023.

Pat Benton, and Adventist Review