For more than 50 years, Reverend Watson L. Haynes II served St. Petersburg as a city leader and community activist. The longtime president and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League died Saturday at age 68, after a battle with cancer.
A native of St. Petersburg, Haynes grew up in the former gasworks district, the current site of Tropicana Field. An associate pastor at New Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Haynes served on the Southwest Florida Water Management District Board of Directors under Governor Jeb Bush and was appointed to the Human Rights Commission. Florida man by Charlie Crist and Rick Scott.
Mayor Ken Welch called Haynes’ voice “universally respected”.
In a statement, Welch said: “St. Petersburg has lost a giant with the passing of Watson Haynes. For decades he was a religious, business, political and civil rights leader. a peacemaker and a bridge builder.
“He improved the lives of many people and helped chart the course for shared progress in St. Petersburg. We are eternally grateful for his example of principled leadership throughout his life.
“The loss of Watson is a huge loss for the city of St. Petersburg,” former mayor Rick Kriseman said. “He was a giant of a man who had a huge impact on his community. Everything about Watson was about the community – to him, nothing was about Watson. His work with the Urban League and the African American community was monumental.
“He’s one of those guys that it’s hard to think about the city without him being a part of it.”
In a 2018 Catalyst interview, Haynes explained his work ethic: “I’ve always worked since I was 14 years old. I knew that if I wasn’t in Pinellas County, I wouldn’t be putting in as many hours as I do. It’s because you don’t have to worry when it’s somewhere else, but I learned that whatever the challenge, it didn’t become a challenge for me. It was just something to conquer and move forward.
A family spokesperson said plans to honor Reverend Haynes’ legacy would be announced soon.