Cathy Watkiss

Cathy Watkiss
Cathy at age 6
Porch party in 2002 with Thelma McCoy and Margaret Watson

Porch party in 2002 with Thelma McCoy and Margaret Watson

Longtime Jacksonville area resident Cathy Watkiss fell in love with San Marco long before she actually lived there. Watkiss, who grew up at the beach, came to town frequently as a child and teenager for shopping and family outings. So, many years later when she and husband Dale moved to the area, she knew how fortunate she was to reside in what she calls “one of the last super special spots” here.

For 28 years, Watkiss has lived on West Cove Lane off River Oaks Road, a tiny street with stunning views of wildlife and St. Johns River sunsets. Watkiss watches bald eagles and manatees from her front windows.

First San Marco Christmas tree lighting in Balis Park gazebo; Cathy Watkiss is at bottom right, kneeling

First San Marco Christmas tree lighting in Balis Park gazebo; Cathy Watkiss is at bottom right, kneeling

“We spent a lot of time in San Marco when I was growing up,” she recalled. “We would often eat at Mimm’s Bakery, getting cream cheese sandwiches with olives and pecans on raisin bread.”

Watkiss’s daddy worked for Prudential Insurance, and she and her sister considered it a huge treat to come to town and visit his office.

“When I was in first and second grade, the Prudential building [now the Aetna Building] was the tallest building in the city, and it had marble walls and granite and was so beautiful,” remembered Watkiss. “My daddy would take my sister and I to the River Club to eat on Ladies’ Day. This was around 1959, and the club was only for men in those days. I would always get vichyssoise and grasshopper pie.”

When she was a teenager making the same trip from the beach to town, she recalled having to make sure there was enough gas in the car to last her all the way. There were no gas stations along Beach Boulevard, which was the only route at that time.

When Watkiss first married, she and Dale lived in St. Nicholas. She worked for Village Interiors in Deerwood before opening her own interior design firm in 1979. It wasn’t long before they found the house on West Cove Lane. Since there were only a couple of other houses on her street, she and her two closest neighbors became fast friends.

“Thelma McCoy and Margaret Watson were best friends their entire life and built houses next door to each other. Their husbands both worked for Stockton Whatley & Davin [the development firm responsible for building much of San Marco],” explained Watkiss. “They would set up card tables and play bridge in the yard, and we used to have “porch parties” on a regular basis. They both lived to be over 100.”

It was through Watson, a founding member, that Watkiss discovered the San Marco Garden Circle.

“The San Marco Garden Circle was founded in February 1932, and some of the original members are still there,” said Watkiss, who joined in 1989 and has held many positions within the organization, including president. “When I first joined, there were about 20 members and now there are around 36.

Cathy at age 6

Cathy at age 6

It is an amazing organization.”

The San Marco Garden Circle has had its green thumbs on many significant projects in the area. The group was instrumental in restoring Historic Kings Road Park (also known as Fulton Green) that is the entry point to San Marco from the east. In fact, Martha Stewart herself was on hand, along with officials from all over the state, for the ribbon cutting and dedication in 1991. The Garden Circle also created and maintains the rose garden at Landon Park on River Road and puts the tree in Balis Park in San Marco Square each Christmas season.

In addition to the Garden Circle, Watkiss is involved in a number of other volunteer organizations, including the Junior League, the Woman’s Board of Wolfson Children’s Hospital, and the Cowford Ball decorating committee.

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