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At the age of 100, Ann Tipler Watson exudes both diplomacy and charm that have characterized her personality and career from her role as Miss Water Valley of 1938, the year she graduated from Water Valley High School, through her 30 years of service to Rep. Jamie Whitten as a congressional aide.
As a high school senior, Ann was selected as Miss Water Valley. Sadly the newspaper photos of the pageant were destroyed in the Main Street flood of 1980.
Watson attended Belhaven College in Jackson for two years, before working for the Mississippi State Board of Health and the Mississippi School Supply Company. While visiting home, her father mentioned that on a recent Washington trip, Buck Surratt had visited Representative Jamie Whitten, who asked if Buck knew of someone qualified to work in his office. Her father told her initially that he didn’t think Ann would want to move that far from Mississippi, so he didn’t contact her with the news. However, when he mentioned it in passing, she immediately contacted the Washington office and sent a resume. She was invited for an interview and began work on Feb. 1, 1942.
In September 1947, she met retired Naval Lt. Commander Jack Watson, who was employed by Iowa Representative Ben Jensen. Although Jensen was a Republican, Whitten assured her that he and Jensen were great friends, and encouraged the relationship. Ann and Jack were married at the Metropolitan Methodist Church on Jan. 21, 1948.
Their daughter, Michele, was born in 1950. She graduated from Northwestern in 1972, then joined her parents in Europe. After returning to the U.S., she was the public relations rep for American Freedom Train, a traveling bicentennial exhibit. There, she met Col. Donald McCormick and they were married in 1976. When he retired they settled in California, where she established a public relations agency. Now retired, Michele is an outstanding naturalist photographer in Sacramento. Her photographs of birds can be viewed on her website, michelemccormickphotography.com, and on her Instagram page, @michelepix.
Since Ann and Jack enjoyed traveling abroad, Jack researched possible locations for their move after retirement. They settled on Portugal, because of its economy, weather, and community of ex-pats. Before leaving the U.S., they had ordered a Mercedes from the factory in Stuttgart, Germany. On their way to pick it up, they planned to visit Maria Therese, the daughter of some Nashville friends. She had married an Italian prince who inherited a 150-room castle in a small town near Rome, Italy.
During that visit, they mentioned they were picking up a new car, but would eventually need another car which would enable them to ferry multiple visits on day trips.
Maria Therese volunteered that she had a large, old Mercedes stored in their barn that she would sell to them. She warned that it had no heater, no air conditioner, no radio and no automatic shift, but it did have four good tires. Upon learning that she was only asking $2,500, Jack immediately wrote a check. Eventually, when they moved back to the U.S., they brought the old car with them. They were unable to find a local mechanic who could service the clunker. Fortunately, the Methodist preacher, LA. Wasson, had the know-how and patience to keep it running for as long as they owned it.
When they moved back in 1973, they purchased a home on North Main Street and enjoyed renewing old friendships, bridge parties, activities at the country club and entertaining.
Since Ann helped out at Representative Whitten’s Oxford headquarters, and the couple also attended many events in Oxford and at the University of Mississippi, they moved there in 1980.
Ann’s mother often made the trip in her prized 1956 Chevrolet from Water Valley to Oxford to play bridge with Ann and her friends. She was always very punctual, but one such trip she was behind a very slow-moving car. Running out of patience and not wanting to be late, the elderly Mrs. Tipler said she finally “let the horses loose” and passed it.
Mrs. Tipler took such phenomenal care of that car; it was in pristine condition and the envy of everyone in town. She always parked the car inside the garage, and every time she drove it, she would wipe the entire exterior with Pledge furniture polish.
In 2013, Ann moved to Sacramento, Calif., to be near her daughter and, as she no longer had family in the area. Jack had died on April 17, 1997; and her mother died in 1997, three years short of her 100th birthday. Her father had died earlier, in 1961.
Fast-forward to Dec. 9, 2021 in Memphis, Tenn. Though on a tight schedule, between her arrival from Sacramento and embarking on a river cruise bound for New Orleans the next morning, Ann hosted a luncheon for her Water Valley and Oxford friends at Paulette’s near the Mississippi River.
Her guests arrived first, excited in anticipation of the reunion. Always the consummate hostess, as soon as Ann arrived with her traveling companion, Christine Greve, she began decorating the table with floral arrangements, handmade gifts and name tags with personalized menu selections which she had made after sending each guest a menu a month prior to the occasion.
Ann made certain to visit with each guest by first sitting on one end of the table, and then later moving to the other end. She knew how to make all her guests feel special, always focusing the conversation on them.
When the luncheon concluded, Ann and Christine Greve went to the “Grace Inn,” the Elvis Presley guest house, where they stayed for the night. In the morning they boarded the American Melody, bound for New Orleans. Ann said she had visited all the historic Mississippi ports at various times, but it was wonderful to see them again; and the new ship (its first voyage was in September), the entertainment, the staff and the food were wonderful. “I was blown away, it exceeded my expectations,” Ann said.