Hattie Brown Award Recipient for the 237th Fourth of July Celebration

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Ken & Mary Watkinson

2022 Hattie Brown Award Recipients

The Hattie Brown Award is named in honor of longtime active Fourth of July Committee member, the late Hattie Brown. The award is presented annually to a worthy Bristolian who demonstrates the same spirit of community service that was exhibited by Ms. Brown. Hattie was well known for her charitable contributions and activities in Bristol and throughout the State.


Our recipients this year are husband and wife, Ken and Mary Watkinson.

Mary was born on the island of Saint Miguel in the village of Villafranca in the Azores. In 1953 her family migrated to America. Three years later they all became naturalized American citizens; an honor they all appreciated and are still very proud of. Her mother was born in California and was actually an American citizen. This gave them the ability to apply for citizenship sooner.


At the age of 17, Mary graduated from Hope High School in Providence. She was the first child in her family to graduate from high school. Although a high school education was valued she learned it could only get you so far. After working in various employments and at the prompting of her daughter Wendy who is an RN, she applied to the CCRI Newport Extension Nursing Program. In 2001, at the age of 50, she became an RN and found hospice nursing was what she loved to do. She has been a nurse with Beacon Hospice for 18 years and she says it is a privilege to be at the bedside of a dying person and assist with the transition into their journey. 


Ken was born and raised in Bristol and graduated from Bristol High School in 1968. He is retired, co-owner of Watkinson’s Automotive. Ken was in the Army Reserves from 1968-1975. He was a member of the Jaycees from 1972-1976. During that time Ken worked on a project involving an orphanage in Saigon who cared for children who were left behind and fathered by American GIs. He received the Humanitarian Award for his work on that project.


Ken was a Beacon Hospice volunteer until the Covid outbreak and the volunteer department was dissolved. He is a life member of the Eveready Fire Department and has worked with the homeless in
Newport. Currently they are both on the Worship Team at Calvary Temple A/G in Fall River. Ken plays the sax and Mary plays keyboard and sings. Mary is also a member of the choir. They have served in many ministries from cleaning the church to leading the youth group.  As they stated, “It is a
very big part of who we are”. 


However, According to Ken and Mary, the greatest and most rewarding charity they have been involved with by far, is in Haiti. On January 12, 2010, the world heard and saw the devasting earthquake that hit Haiti. They were drawn to the news reports that were coming in daily. They couldn't bear seeing the children being dug out of collapsed buildings. It was so heartbreaking that Mary was compelled to go to Haiti.  She says, “I can only say that God touched my heart and called me”.


In March of that year, Mary found herself traveling to the streets of Port au Prince with a volunteer group from the Veteran’s Home. She had never seen poverty like this before. Mary said, “It was difficult to process! You just want to blame someone for what you see”. It haunted her and when she came home, she told Ken that they had to help these people. They went to work for an organization called Haiti’s Child run by a Haitian woman and along with her and 10 to 20 other team members they run a school in Haiti for 250 children. They are involved all year long with fundraising to support the school. They also have a sponsorship program where those who wish can sponsor a “classroom”.


Recently they were able to raise funds and get 15 musical instruments donated for the school and also provide and pay for a music teacher for 6 months.


Along with Haiti’s Child they have also sponsored World Vision since 1986 and Love a Child Ministry in Haiti.


Every year they organize a mobile clinic in Haiti. They recruit volunteers to travel with them to offer medical assistance and they work with two Haitian doctors and interpreters. They pay their own way and raise money for supplies and medications. On each trip they have been able
to treat up to 700 people.


Ken, along with 6 others, have supported an orphanage called Center River of Hope, just outside of Port au Prince in Haiti. It is run by a pastor who brings in children living on the streets into a safe environment. He now has 16 children. The team is able to send money to feed and educate the children.  


During the past year, since they have not been able to travel to Haiti, they have turned their energy into serving the homeless. They have collected warm blankets, warm socks, winter clothes and personal hygiene items for them.  


Ken and Mary are members of the Rotary Club where they have helped support the Bristol Food Bank, scholarships for high school students and the Senior Center, Benjamin Church. Three years ago they were presented with the Paul Harris Fellowship award, the highest award one can receive from the Rotary.


Ken and Mary have been married for 52 years.  Ken, as Mary says, is a" True-Blue" Bristolian who would never live anywhere but Bristol. They have three children; daughter Wendy Friend who lives in Rehoboth, Renee Anderson Costa (whom they adopted after meeting her through the Foster System of Rhode Island) and son Kenny, who as Mary and Ken say, “has gone home to the Lord”. They have five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


Mary says, “It has been 'strange' to sit and list all these things.  For Ken and I, it is a way of life.  Most days, we are either wiring money to Haiti, picking up items to sell for Haiti or sending out our bi-annual Haiti's Child Newsletter....just to name a few things. But the most important part of all of this, is that we don't do it alone. There are many who partner with us. There is no “I” in team.  We are all in this together. What else are we here for but to help one another”. 

Mary sums it up by saying, “Honestly, life just is not worth living if we can't help others”. And that is  what Hattie Brown’s award is all about.