Media Scene

Ex-WCNC reporter Stuart Watson documents painful journey to discover his past

Former WCNC (Channel 36) investigative reporter Stuart Watson is using his skills in a new way – he’s making a documentary about the central mystery of his life.

Watson, 57, was born to an unwed mother, went immediately into foster care and was adopted at four months old to a loving couple he still calls Mom and Dad.

Now he’s making a film about his journey that uncovered the identity of his biological parents and the unexpected insights it gave him into his personal recovery from alcoholism.

Watson, who has been sober for 23 years, dug into public documents and the prison archives of Georgia, where he was born, to find his father.

From a few scant clues, he was able to learn that his biological father was a decorated Marine wounded in the battle of Peleliu, one of the first bloody island beachheads clawed from the Japanese in the Pacific campaign of 1944.

After the war, his father became an attorney who fell deep into the bottle and served prison time for forging checks. He was being treated for alcoholism in the Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Ga., once the largest mental hospital in the world, when he developed a relationship with a student nurse.

In 1958, she told him she was pregnant. “He abandoned her, he bolted,” says Watson.

There was a great stigma to being an unwed mother in that time. Watson’s adoption was arranged before his birth.

His mother never saw him, never held him. His foster parents called him William. His adoptive parents named him Stuart.

His father later returned to his mother. They were married at the end of 1959. They had two children in wedlock. His father died of alcoholism, found dead in a Holiday Inn in Commerce, Ga., in 1970.

From his digging, Watson solved the mystery of who his mother was 12 years ago. He wrote her a letter.

He explained that he wanted nothing from her, that his adoptive parents had been wonderful, that his life was good. But he was curious, and if she was too, maybe they should meet.

They did, and he learned about his second family. For his birth mother, for which the documentary “Helen” is named, it was a cathartic experience.

“She had mixed emotions to begin with,” Watson says, “because it brought up some of the worst memories of her life – guilt, shame, remorse, blaming herself, second-guessing – because it was unresolved.”

Both his birth siblings, he learned, also had developed issues with alcohol. And his mother experienced the torment of addiction as a health professional in the substance-abuse field and through her own family.

One of the themes emerging from his documentary, Watson says, is of institutions – the Marines, the psychiatric hospital and families torn by addiction.

Watson is in the research, filming and money-raising stage with his videographer, former WBTV chief photographer Leighton Grant, who now does commercial work.

Watson says they are on track to have it finished by mid-2017. Then they will be looking for the proper venue to air it, possibly through public television.

It’s a compelling story of struggle, revelation and resolution that should resonate with many, Watson says.

“I have to believe there are others who can benefit from the story of all this pain.”