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NW editor seeks disability; successor search initiated

PORTLAND, Ore. (BP)﷓﷓James L. Watters, editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness the past 13 years, has filed for medical disability following a recurrence of cancer.
Although Watters, 65, has applied for an extension beyond the normal retirement age for an employee of the Northwest Baptist Convention, a search for his successor has been initiated by Jeff Iorg, executive director of the Oregon﷓Washington convention.
Watters said convention rules require retirement at the end of the year in which a person reaches age 65. However, a person may ask for an extension which Watters, who turned 65 last January, requested in a recent letter given to Iorg. Watters told Baptist Press he had hoped to work a couple more years before actually retiring.
However, a recurrence of a cancer first detected last year has hampered Watters’ hopes for continuing as editor. Watters is receiving a second round of treatments for a cancer in the bladder.
In discussions with Iorg which began at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans last year, Watters said he conveyed his hopes of continuing past normal retirement age. His request would have to be approved by the state convention’s executive board, which meets July 7﷓8 in Portland. Watters said Iorg told him he didn’t know whether the board would approve the extension, but probably not for more than a year.
In letters sent in mid﷓May to several possible candidates for the editor’s position, Iorg said Watters “has recently applied for medical disability and is no longer actively working (for the convention). I am beginning an immediate search for his successor.”
Iorg’s letter said he hoped “to move quickly toward a decision and recommendation to the (executive board) in their next regular meeting.”
In an interview with Baptist Press, Iorg said Watter’s application for disability was filed about May 1 and it would take 45 to 60 days to find out whether it has been accepted. If the application is denied, that would mean the executive board would have to work out a difficult situation which the convention has not faced before, Iorg said.
But, Iorg emphasized, it would be his desire to make sure Watters is taken care of, especially with health insurance. If the application is approved, no one knows how long he might receive the disability support but Iorg said the convention would be allowed to continue paying his health insurance during that time.
Since the board only meets twice a year, Iorg said he needed to be ready to give the board in July a nominee for editor. The alternative would be to wait until the November annual meeting or calling a special board meeting, and Iorg said he preferred working out a solution in the July meeting if possible.
Watters said it was unclear to him whether he will be a convention employee through the end of the year, according to the normal retirement rules, or whether, under another convention rule, he has three months of salary before he is released. Under the disability provisions, he will receive 60 percent of his salary. Salary for the editor’s position is about $40,000 plus insurance and benefits, according to an editor profile sent to possible candidates.
“Jeff seems eager to move in a different direction with the Witness,” Watters told Baptist Press. “I would have fought in the board meeting for retirement at the end of the year,” Watters said, however, he is unsure about his status now with the convention because of the medical disability.
The cancer was first treated in August 1996, Watters said, and he was back on the job in about three weeks. The recurrence was detected in late February.
Because Watters believes his 20﷓plus years in an “orphaned pension plan” with the Foreign Mission Board would not be sufficient, he had hoped to work several more years with the Northwest convention.
Watters was a Foreign Mission Board﷓appointed missionary to Japan for 22 years before resigning to take the editor’s job in 1984 at the Northwest convention. A native of Oklahoma, Watters received degrees from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, Calif., and East Central University in Oklahoma. He pastored a church in California while attending the seminary.
He and his wife, Darlene, have four grown children.
The convention’s newspaper, the Witness is published 21 times a year with about 15,000 circulation.

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  • Herb Hollinger