After 15 years as the executive director of Burlingame nonprofit CALL Primrose, Mary Watt has stepped down to tend to her health.
Watt, a Redwood City native and current San Carlos resident, took over in 1999 as executive director of the organization that provides food and other assistance to low-income individuals and families from San Bruno down to San Carlos. CALL Primrose started as a telephone and information referral service on Primrose Road in 1983. With Watt, it has grown from distributing 4,000 bags of food per year to close to 40,000 bags.
“Every single day was different,” said Watt, 57. “I got to work with so many wonderful people. I went into work with the expectation I never knew what was going to happen.”
Watt, who has been married for 40 years, has two sons and one granddaughter. She is now going into retirement to work on fixing the neck and back issues she’s had for years.
“I’m getting a lot of rest and enjoying reading and doing gentle physical activity,” said Watt, who holds a master’s in public administration from Notre Dame de Namur University. “I like to write poetry, play piano, compose, travel and listen to music. The key is really pacing myself way slower.”
A search for a successor of the 30-year-old organization will take place over the next several months.
“I really encouraged them to try to take an interim and stabilize,” she said. “Set a vision before picking someone who is a dynamic person for that vision. … The face of hunger in the county is different than it was different than 30 years ago.”
For now, Terri Boesch is acting as the interim office manager.
“My biggest hope is that it stays being a place that matches the abundance of resources we have in the community with the folks that need it,” Watt said.
For many years, Watt said she worried about if the center would have enough resources. She said she doesn’t regret worrying too much about things she didn’t need to worry about after all since it was a learning experience. In her own life, she said over the years she wishes she had remembered to say thank you more often.
“I hope everybody knows I appreciated everything they did,” she said.
There are pluses and minuses having the organization in Burlingame. One positive is easy access from public transit, while a negative is that it’s hard to access by car, she said.
“The house it’s in is 100 years old,” she said. “It’s held a much bigger volume [of supplies] than anyone ever dreamed. People like that it looks like a home because it’s welcoming.”
She hopes it will continue into the future and be able to offer even more students an opportunity to complete community service hours
at the center.
“Students get treated like adults and have an opportunity to give back in a warm, welcoming setting,” she said. “They get to see that not everyone has enough. They can come in and feel like they really made a difference. That’s the real magic and blessing of it.”
Those involved in the organization have praised Watt for her work.
“Mary always goes above and beyond to help others,” said volunteer Annette Alioto in a press release. “She is the most selfless person I know, but she has strong boundaries. Everything is done by the book, and everyone is treated fairly and equally. I love watching the way she approaches and interacts with people. We have all learned a lot from her.”
In fact, in 2013, she was named Burlingame Lions Club Citizen of the Year.
Of Watt’s time at CALL Primrose, one of her favorite memories was in 2008 when within an hour of news of a burglary at the center, donations were flying in the door from the Lions Club and Burlingame Police Department.
“The whole community just rallied around us immediately,” she said. “They came to help us out. The community is so good to CALL Primrose.”
To read a blog post on Watt’s departure at callprimrose.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/a-new-year-ushers-in-a-new-chapter-for-call-primrose.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105