Professor emeritus and world-renowned researcher, scholar dies

Friday, Apr 30, 2021

By Valerie Fields Hill 

School of Social Work

 Thomas Watts
             Thomas Watts

A professor who taught for nearly 40 years in the UTA School of Social Work and wrote defining books on international social welfare, has died.


Thomas Dale Watts, 79, passed away April 14 from natural causes at his home in Irving. A viewing and rosary were held April 18 at Mater Dei Catholic Church in Irving. Family and parishioners held a sung requiem mass Monday, April 19, according to an obituary posted on


UTA Faculty and staff members remembered Dr. Watts as a welcoming administrator and constant supporter of students.


“Tom…served as the director of the Bachelor of Social Work program for many years,” said Debra Woody, senior associate dean of the School of Social Work in an email informing faculty of Dr. Watts’ passing.


Tom was very outgoing, scholarly and an advocate for students. Those of us who were here with Tom remember him fondly.”


Dr. Watts began working at the School of Social Work in 1974. He  retired in 2012 after working at the School for 38 years. He was an expert on social welfare policy, comparative and international social welfare and on urban Native Americans.


Vijayan Pillai, who joined the School of Social Work in 1999 and worked  alongside Dr. Watts, called him a “scholar with an excellent publication record in the field of social welfare.”


“His book on world of social welfare and international social work education still remains the ‘go-to’ book for many students on international social welfare and social work education,” Dr. Pillai wrote in memoriam to Dr. Watts on the site.


Dr. Watts and two other UTA Social Work professors, Doreen Elliott and Nazneen Mayadas, wrote “The World of Social Welfare: Social Welfare and Services in an International Context.” The book was published Jan. 1, 1991 by Charles C. Thomas Publisher, Ltd.


It rose to prominence among social services and welfare textbooks and political science books.


Dr. Watts, Dr. Elliott and Dr. Mayadas collaborated again in 1997 and wrote “The International Handbook on Social Work Theory and Practice.” The book was published by Greenwood on Oct. 30, 1997. It seeks to define global values and a global identity among Social Workers.


It also explores whether a model of international Social Work practice could be applicable across the range of interventions―micro to mezzo to macro, according to a review of the book on Amazon.


“Tom was a giant scholar in the field of Social Work,” UTA Social Work Professor Emeritus Peter Lehman wrote in memoriam to Dr. Watts on the obituary website.


“He had a special bond with Drs. Mayadas and Elliott,” Dr. Lehmann wrote. “They published together having an important and lasting Impact on our profession.”


Social Work Professor Rick Hoefer also referred to Dr. Watts and his contemporaries as “giants in international Social Work.”


 “His knowledge of Social Work education was extensive, deep, and grounded in both literature and practice,” Dr. Hoefer wrote in an email to fellow faculty members last week remembering Dr. Watts. He added that Dr. Watts had worked post-retirement with the Native American community in Dallas.


Some Social Work faculty remembered a personal side of Dr. Watts. “He was one of the kindest faculty members when I joined UTA,” Dr. Hoefer recalled.


 “Tom and I discussed the humble perfection of up-scale vanilla ice cream and how the Kansas Jayhawks were doing in their quest for another year of basketball glory.”


“Watching he and his wife Ilene interact was to see longtime, mature love in the flesh,” he wrote. “We can all hope to be in such a relationship.”


In 1979, Dr. Watts served as chair of the thesis committee in the School of Social Work when Professor Catheleen Jordan earned a master’s degree. Dr. Jordan left, but later returned to the university as a faculty member. Upon her return, Dr. Watts became a mentor, she said.


“I believe he was in the first group - or close to it - of faculty at the new UTA Graduate School of Social Work,” said Dr. Jordan.


Tom was kind, always interesting to talk to, and humble,” Dr. Jordan wrote. “He was recognized internationally for his work…but never gloated.”


Dr. Watts earned a bachelor’s degree at Wichita State University, a master’s at Arizona State University and a doctorate in Social Work at Tulane University. After retiring, UTA and the School of Social Work named him professor emeriti.


The honor was fitting.


“Our early faculty were stars who put UTA School of Social Work on the map,” Dr. Jordan said. 


“We owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Watts for his contributions to Social Work scholarship and research,” Dr. Scott Ryan, dean of the School of Social Work said. “He is one of the reasons our School enjoys a strong academic reputation and remains ranked among the best in the nation.”


Dr. Watts and his wife Ilene celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2020, according to his obituary. He leaves to cherish his memories, his wife, two children and grandchildren.