March 4, 2024

Organized by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Social Work Month in March is a time to celebrate the great profession of social work. While the month is a time to celebrate the nation’s more than 700,000 social workers, we wanted to shine a spotlight on the accomplishments of social workers who have impacted our UW community.

To start off the month, we thought we would celebrate the life and career of Taylene Watson.

Taylene Watson, former executive director of the NASW, Washington Chapter, and clinical associate professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work, left an enduring mark on the field of social work. Watson, who passed away on March 28, 2020, is remembered for her bold leadership and passionate advocacy for women, African Americans and veterans.

Taylene Watson perfectly embodied our most cherished professional values, and everything that is great and powerful about social work,” says Eddie Uehara, the School’s Emerita Ballmer Endowed Dean in Social Work. “She will be remembered, now and in the future, as a standard bearer for our profession.” 

Early life and career

Watson first graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans with a sociology degree and began a 40-year career at the Veterans Administration (VA). Early in her career, as a social work associate, she developed her gift for building rapport with patients. 

She went on to receive a master’s in social work at Western Michigan University and then transferred to the VA Puget Sound, where she rose to deputy chief of social work. From 1999 until her retirement in 2015, she oversaw a staff that grew to nearly 200 social workers―one of the largest social work departments in the country.

Watson's impact extended beyond administration. She spearheaded a field-education unit that accommodated 20 students at VA Seattle and American Lake facilities, addressing the unique needs of women in the military.

Advocacy and legacy

Following her retirement from the VA, Watson assumed the role of executive director at the NASW, Washington Chapter. Additionally, she helped coordinate the annual African American Caregivers Conference, and other continuing education and community outreach events.

Her dedication to successfully transitioning veterans who served in the Gulf War, Afghanistan, or Iraq earned her recognition and respect. Watson's influence reached beyond her immediate community, as she encouraged social work professionals from various institutions to actively participate in the NASW.

She also contributed as an academic, co-teaching a course at the UW School of Social Work to prepare new social workers to serve veterans, and served on advisory and student review committees at the School.

She earned national and state accolades, including the prestigious title of National VA Social Worker of the Year in 2006, and Social Worker of the Year by NASW's Washington chapter in 1999 and 2012. In January 2020, Watson received the School’s Tony Ishisaka Living Human Treasure Award—only the second recipient of this recognition—as well as the Martin Luther King Community Services award. 


Sadly, on March 28, 2020, Taylene Watson passed away after a short stay in hospice care, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire social workers.

Her memory lives on through the countless students and professionals she taught and mentored, embodying the values of social justice and excellence in the field. The impact of Taylene Watson's dedication, leadership and advocacy still reverberate through the field of social work.