Long Beach lost two of its legendary community leaders, from different generations, within days of each other over the weekend.
Carolyn Smith Watts, 56, former president of Leadership Long Beach and a member of the Long Beach Civil Service Commission, died Friday, May 31, after an almost two-year battle with cancer. Laura Killingsworth, 95, grande dame of Long Beach musical theater, died at her home on Sunday, June 2.
“The entire city is saddened by the loss of two wonderful women who each made incredible contributions to Long Beach,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said Monday, June 3. “Carolyn and Laura each worked to create the city we know and love today. They will be greatly missed.”
Killingsworth starred in more than 50 musicals and plays during four decades of performances, ending in the late 1990s. She was almost as well known for her volunteer work in support of local arts as she was a performer.
She served as president of the Long Beach Symphony Association, the Long Beach Civic Light Opera Association, the Public Corporation for the Arts and many other groups. She and her husband, Ed, a world-renowned architect, also supported hundreds of youngsters through children’s theater. In 1978, she was selected as the Rick Rackers Woman of the Year.
Congressman Stephen Horn, former president of Cal State Long Beach, paid a tribute to Killingsworth in the Congressional Record on her 75th birthday on Jan. 24, 1999.
She was a “a gifted performer and civic leader,” Horn said. “Long Beach enjoys a more vital cultural climate because of her significant talents and efforts through a lifetime of achievement.”
She is “one of the leading citizens of Long Beach,” he added.
Watts, a former police officer from Lansing, Michigan, moved to Long Beach more than 28 years ago and immediately began building a career connecting people to make Long Beach a better place to live.
She championed many issues, emphasizing social justice, equal-employment opportunities for all and fairness in business representation.
“Her professional work and passion has always centered around public service to others,” said Alison Whyte King, long-time friend of Watts. “Carolyn is best described as a ‘community concierge,’ connecting people for a purpose.”
Watts served as a board and commission member to many organizations, including the Long Beach Housing Development Company, the Citizen Police Complaint Commission, the Long Beach Civil Service Commission and Leadership Long Beach.
“Carolyn has been gracefully battling a terrible cancer for 19 months, and she finally succumbed,” said Jeff Williams, executive director of Leadership Long Beach. “It is no small understatement to say that Carolyn has been the heart of this organization for nearly two decades. She leaves a void that cannot be filled.”
Watts also created with Sunny Nash a study of a group of community women from the civil rights generation, which resulted in a book, “Breaking Through Lighting the Way,” about 12 African American women who made a difference in the history of Long Beach and Southern California.
Services are pending for Killingsworth and Watts. More details on their lives will be published soon.