He was a quiet and good man in a world with too few quiet and good men. He moved slowly, thought slowly, and spoke slowly in a low bass voice more suited for radio than idle conversation. His name was Roy Bennett Welch and he was my wife’s uncle, a brother to my mother-in-law The Lady Hazel.
Roy was born at Wattensaw on January 13, 1928, one of five children who lived to maturity. He grew to manhood there, finding the world a fascinating place. Few people I have known found the world more interesting than Roy did . He sought out an education and completed high school by boarding with “Doc” Abbington of Beebe, Arkansas, a noted supporter of education. If ever a person would have enjoyed college, it would have been Roy, but it was not possible in those hard times.
He entered the United States Navy shortly after World War Two and spent his time in the “Brown Shoe Navy,” i.e. the naval aviation community. He became an air traffic controller, some say because of his deep, clear voice. He returned to Wattensaw after his service and, like many men of the Delta, found work scarce.
Encouraged by family and friends, he drove to St. Louis, Missouri and found work with the McDonnell Douglas aerospace manufacturing corporation there. Family legend has it that he lived and slept in his car until he had enough money to rent lodging.
Thus began a career that spanned 40 years and culminated with an assignment to America’s Space Program. For the last years of his career, he associated with astronauts, scientists, engineers, and others in one of the most exciting scientific endeavors of modern history. It was pretty good duty for a Wattensaw boy.
His dream, though, was to return here to manage the old home place and land that he had added to it. He returned frequently from his home in University City, Missouri, always bringing items collected in endless trips to flea markets and garage sales. How he loaded and transported them is still a family mystery. There are still concrete wash sinks on the farm that two adults can hardly stand on end. Somehow he carried them from basements to his truck and then to Wattensaw.
Never married, he worked and waited for retirement. That’s when I came to know him, on his frequent trips to Arkansas. It seemed he always had something—a souvenir , photographs, electrical equipment, or just some trinket—to show me. He also began collecting farm equipment to use when he achieved his final dream of retiring back home to his little spot of the world.
It was not to be. His heart, and it was a great and generous one, gave out on March 1990. They divided up his worldly belongings and brought him home to be buried a few miles from where he was born. His wasn’t a notable life or a famous one, just a good one dedicated to his country, his family, his job, and his place of birth. There is not telling what he might have accomplished had life afforded him a little more opportunity. He is missed, though, and that in itself is a great accomplishment.
At his funeral, another Wattensaw native, Kelly Jones, said one of the kindest things I’ve ever heard at such a gathering. He said, “As a boy, Roy was always walking around whistling, looking for something to do.”
That’s not a bad epithet for a Wattensaw boy.