Helen Orr Watson, 85, author of children's books, a teacher and former resident here, died Wednesday of a respiratory ailment in a Pittsburgh hospital. She was visiting relatives.
Mrs. Watson wrote a number of books dealing with "Army" animals. She had heard stories of the often heroic actions of animals and birds while living here and abroad with her husband, Army Col. James T. Watson, who died in 1951. She decided to write a series of books on these "unsung" heroes for children.
During the early 1930s her husband had served with the Army Signal Corps in New Jersey. Mrs. Watson's first book named "Chanco, A U.S. Army Homing Pigeon." As in all her later books, the story itself was fiction but was drawn from recorded accounts of actual accomplishments of the bird. The book was praised by Army experts for its authenticity and devotion to detail.
Her most popular book was probably "Top Kick, United States Army Horse," published in 1942 and a junior Literary Guide selection. This told the story of Top Kick from the time he was foaled at the Front Royal Remount Depot to his part in a delaying action fought by American forces on Bataan.
Mrs. Watson's other books included "Trooper, United States Army Dog" and "Shavetail Sam, U.S. Army Mule." The latter moved one reviewer to write, "If mules could read, they would get a kick out of this story."
During the 1950s she wrote "Beano, the Circus Dog" and "Fools Over Horses," a story set in the Virginia hunt country.
Mrs. Watson lived here off and on from the early 1930s to 1960.
While here she taught writing courses at Southeastern University and covered Eleanor Roosevelt's press conferences for a chain of Minnesota newspapers. She even appeared with the Broadway cast of "Up Pops the Devil" at the National Theater in the late 1930s.
Mrs. Watson was active for many years in the National League of American Pen Women, serving for a time as president of the Washington Chapter, and from 1954 to 1955 as national president. She was a former president of the Children's Book Guild.
Mrs. Watson was born in Pipestone, Minn., and graduated from Carleton College in 1914. She served for a time in public schools in Minnesota before become a YWCA chaperone for war brides escorting them from Europe to this country during World War I.
AMong the many organizations she belong to were the Author's League of America, the American Association of University Women, and the Daughters of the American Resolution.
She is survived by son, Donald S., of Annandale; a daughter, Margaret Jean Hebditch, of Pittsburgh, and six grandchildren.