Obituary: Dr. Lisa A. Watkins-Liseno

May 1, 1968 ~ March 12, 2023

Dr. Lisa Ann (Watkins) Liseno, 54, died on March 12, 2023, after a fall in her home in Crawfordville, Fla.  She was born on May 1, 1968, in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., to Norm and Mabel Watkins.

Lisa was wickedly smart, funny, strong-willed, fiercely assertive in the face of injustice and cared deeply about others. She truly lit up the lives of all who had the good fortune to meet her. She loved swimming; great books and music; her pet cats, George and Weezee; and laughing uproariously at “Seinfeld” and, in earlier days, “Late Night with David Letterman.” She loved watching “Days of Our Lives” tongue-in-cheek, laughing and conversing about it with her sister, mother and late grandmother. Her musical tastes were wide, including particular affinities for The Doors, Eric Clapton, the Beastie Boys and Alice in Chains. Lisa made a lot of friends everywhere she went. 

Lisa overcame a tremendous amount of adversity and made the absolute best of what she had. She was stricken with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when she was 8 years old and battled it her entire life. While it severely limited her mobility and caused her a lot of pain, it couldn’t touch her spirit and didn’t affect her glowing personality or her determination.

Lisa graduated from Sturgeon Bay High School and got her bachelor’s degree from Carroll College (now Carroll University) in Waukesha, Wis., with a double major in journalism and philosophy. She made lifelong friends at Carroll and worked at the student-run radio station there, WCCX, where her love of music broadened. During the summers, she worked at and eventually became general manager of the Commodore Inn and Marina, a resort in Sturgeon Bay. Lisa went on to earn her master’s degree in philosophy from Northern Illinois University.

While finishing her master’s requirements, Lisa moved to New Orleans, where she lived for four years. If she had written a book about the adventures she had there, it would have been a best-seller. She developed a network of great friends in New Orleans and always welcomed visits from her sister and other friends and family for as long as they could join her. She met her future husband, John Liseno, during Mardi Gras festivities while walking down the street outside Igor’s, a local establishment where she had a great group of friends. From the start, Lisa and John were inseparable and shared many adventures riding his Harley-Davidson and traveling to their favorite vacation spot in Destin, Fla. Their bond was unbelievably close and they were clearly the loves of each other’s lives. John and Lisa cherished each other deeply and neither was shy about expressing their love, including showering each other with compliments.

 Lisa and John moved to Tallahassee, Fla., in 2000 so she could pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy at Florida State University. She earned her Ph.D. in 2007 and was hired as a faculty member at FSU shortly thereafter. She worked at FSU for more than 15 years and most recently worked as assistant dean of the Graduate School. In that capacity, she served as director of the Program for Instructional Excellence, director of the Fellows Society and faculty advisor for DIRECTO (the Diversity and Inclusion in Research and Teaching Organization). She previously worked as an associate professor in Undergraduate Studies at Florida State, where she worked in the Academic Center for Excellence and was an adjunct professor in philosophy during much of her time at FSU. Lisa gave national and international presentations on pedagogy, higher education, and diversity and inclusion initiatives, and received grants for pursuing research in the scholarship of teaching and learning. She received the Seminole Faculty/Staff Leadership Award in spring 2019 for her work with FSU graduate students. In her personal capacity, Lisa recently advocated against gender-based and disability-based discrimination for academic professionals like herself.

While Lisa and John lived in Tallahassee, John established his own painting business, John the Painter. Lisa served as vice president of John the Painter and helped him run the business while she also worked at FSU. Lisa and John later moved to nearby Crawfordville, Fla. They were married in September 2007 in Sturgeon Bay. John passed away in January 2014 after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis and a lung transplant. Lisa was heartbroken, but she threw herself into running John the Painter while continuing to work at FSU. She honored his memory by establishing the John F. Liseno Program for Instructional Excellence Graduate Award, which provides funding for graduate students to travel to make presentations at professional conferences. A similar scholarship fund will be set up in Lisa’s name, at her request.

Lisa is survived by her parents, Norm and Mabel Watkins; her brothers, Dan (Sherry) Watkins and Steve (Kelly Leon) Watkins; sister Robin (Nick) Watkins-Mitchell; nephews Elliot Watkins and Ian Mitchell; nieces Cheyenne Watkins and Jasmine Mitchell; and numerous cousins, aunts and uncles.  

A memorial service will be held at 11:00 am on May 6 in Sturgeon Bay at the United Methodist Church. Visitation will be from 10:00 am at the church until the time of service.  Another service will be held in Florida, with details to be determined. 

Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to to be used for an FSU scholarship foundation to be set up in Lisa’s name, or to the Arthritis Foundation ( in her memory.