Frederick J. Watts of Summit, N.J. passed away on December 23, 2021 of complications from multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. He was 64. A beloved husband and father; respected prosecutor; passionate advocate for underserved youth; and cherished brother, uncle and friend, Fred will be deeply missed.
Fred is the son of the late Frederick Watts, Jr. and the late Janice Cordes Watts. He and his sister Karen grew up in the Bronx and Mt. Vernon, NY. After spending a year at a private law firm, Fred was appointed by Robert M. Morgenthau in 1984 to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, beginning a legal career in the public sector that would span over 30 years. As a staff-level Assistant District Attorney, Fred handled the investigation and prosecution of a full range of crimes, including sexual assaults and homicides. In 1990, he was promoted to the supervisory position of Deputy Bureau Chief, and in 1991, to the executive position of Deputy Administrative Assistant District Attorney and Director of Legal Hiring. In that position, he was responsible for the selection of all Assistant District Attorneys and summer law interns and for administrative oversight of a host of matters. In 1996, Fred was elevated to Administrative Assistant District Attorney, where he had executive oversight of all administrative functions for the 1,400-person government agency. In addition, he developed and taught courses for prosecutors. In 2007, Fred became the Executive Assistant District Attorney for Finance and Administration, with added responsibility for securing all city, state, and federal funding for the Office. In 2010, under newly-elected District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Fred retained his role as the Office’s chief administrative officer.
In 2014, Fred retired from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to assume leadership of the Police Athletic League, NYC (PAL). As Executive Director, Fred oversaw one of New York City’s oldest and largest independent not-for-profit youth agencies, serving nearly 20,000 New York City youth through a wide array of youth development programs, including childcare and pre-kindergarten; education, arts, and sports; college prep and work readiness; and juvenile justice. Most recently, Fred navigated PAL effectively through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the struggles of social justice issues facing our city and nation.
Fred’s professional and community activities have included active participation on the Judiciary Committee of The Association of the Bar of the City of New York; membership in the National Black Prosecutors Association; service as a Board member of the Prosecutors’ Center for Excellence; completion of the Coro-Leadership New York Program; service as a Board member of the Summit New Jersey Area YMCA; mentorship of high school students who aspire to legal careers; and coaching youth sports teams.
Fred has been recognized for exceptional public service as the recipient of the District Attorney, New York Association award; the YMCA of New Jersey Minority Achievement Award; the William Tucker Garvin Public Service Award conferred by the Queens District Attorney; the City & State New York, Protecting New York Award; and NY’s City & State’s Black 100 List.
Fred graduated from Brown University with a degree in Economics and from Columbia University School of Law. An avid swimmer since childhood, Fred enjoyed sports of all kinds. He had particular passions for golf and basketball. He loved to read, had a wonderful sense of humor, and enjoyed nothing more than a good conversation. Fred loved his family deeply and was deeply loved in return.
Fred is survived by his wife of 37 years, Celia Colbert, and their two sons: Michael, 29 (Amanda Solivan) and Nicholas, 26; his sister Karen Watts (Shemuel Yehudah); his nephew Joseph Cave and niece Adrienne Cooper (Jermaine Cooper); cousins and other family members; a host of colleagues; and innumerable friends.
Visitation will be held at Bradley, Brough & Dangler, 299 Morris Avenue, Summit, NJ from 4 to 8pm on Monday, January 3. Interment will be private. The family is planning a memorial service for February 2022.
Those wishing to make a memorial gift in Fred’s name are asked to consider a donation to the Police Athletic League, NYC at 34-1/2 East 12 Street, New York, NY 10003 or by visiting www.palnyc.org.