Skip to content

Thomas Elihu ‘Chop’ Watts

Dateline – Clinton, South Carolina

Thomas Elihu ‘Chop’ Watts, 96, crossed into heaven peacefully from his home in Clinton on Friday, March 1, 2024. Born in Mountville, SC on April 18, 1927 he was the youngest of the 10 children of Grover Cleveland and Eliza Hudgens Watts. His mother died when he was 2 years old, and his older brothers and sisters helped raise him.

After graduating from Mountville High School, he married his sweetheart Bernice Young. Chop was a man of strong work ethic and was willing to do whatever work was needed to support his wife and three children. They would pack up the family and move to wherever work was available. The children saw this as a great adventure! Chop was likeable and caring, so wherever they lived, whether it was upstate New York working on the St Lawrence Seaway Project or Indiana or Ohio on the Turnpike, he always made lifelong friends. The children have great memories of their childhood. When the children reached their teen years, he purchased a home in Clinton where he lived until his death.

While working on the Seaway project, Chop learned the skill of concrete finishing. As the years passed, he launched his own business, Thomas E Watts, Inc. He became well known for his high-quality workmanship, integrity, and work ethic in the Eastern seaboard states. He was a pioneer in slip-forming technology and with his ideas, Power Curbers built the first slip-form machine for concrete barrier walls. During his career his company poured about 2 million feet of bridge and barrier concrete walls along southeastern roads. Highly respected in his field, Chop’s motto was “My word is my bond!”.

Chop loved to travel across the wide expanses of this beautiful country. He and Bernice, and later Martha, with various friends or grandchildren or family along, visited every continental state numerous times. Whether traveling by car or by motorhome, he would stop in to say hello to family and friends along the way. He drove the Al-Can Highway 7 times but said he would visit Hawaii ‘when they built the bridge’, since he would not fly.

Later, when family members were living overseas, Chop agreed to fly to Europe…anything to see his much-loved family!

In 1978, a distant relative from Colorado traced his family roots to Clinton. Virgil Young flew to SC and met Chop and the family. A deep friendship developed and the annual elk hunting trips to Colorado began!

For over 40 years Chop took many hunters on adventures to the Colorado Eagle’s Nest Wilderness and later the Pickett property in Steamboat. The tradition became an integral part of their lives as they hunted, shared laughter, and reminisced around the camp with their Colorado comrades.

Always a lover of the outdoors, his sport of choice was quail hunting. Whether in the brambles of the upstate or the flatlands of the low country, he would walk miles and miles with his Brittany Spaniels by his side, enjoying the companionship of friends and family.

A sharp-minded fellow, Chop loved to play cards. A family favorite was Rook, where he referred to himself as ‘The Daddy Rabbit’! The camaraderie was as great as the competitive card-playing.

Chop was predeceased by his first wife of 40 years Bernice Young Watts and a grandson William Malcolm ‘Make’ Shields, III. He is survived by his 2nd wife of 35 years Martha Young Nantz Watts, his three children Diane W Highsmith, Brenda W Shields, and Thomas P Watts (Mandy), 11 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren, and 4 great-great grandchildren. He was also beloved Papa Chop to his step-family: Ben Nantz (Elaine), David Nantz (Chris, deceased), Kathy Hilliard (Joe), Eric Nantz (Sara), 8 grandchildren, and 1 great-granddaughter. He loved all of his family with all of his heart. Even as his dementia progressed, the presence of a child brought a skip to his step, a light to his eyes, and a smile to his face.

Chop loved his Lord most of all. At every family reunion the gospel was presented by him before the prayer. He wanted everyone to know his Savior! His faithfulness to God, his church, his family, and multitudes of friends is rewarded now, as he sings in his strong baritone voice his praises to God. All will miss his magnetic personality, his caring and unconditional love, his appreciation for life, and his clever old-time lyrical ditties. To know him was to love him and to be assuredly loved by him!

Services will be held Saturday March 9, 2024 at Hurricane Baptist Church, 2763 Hurricane Church Road Clinton SC at 11:00. Visitation with the family will be held before the service at 10:00.

Memorials may be made to Hurricane Baptist Church, 18211 Highway 72 East, Clinton SC 29325 or Mountville Baptist Church, PO Box 484, Mountville SC 29370.

Condolences may be expressed to the family online by visiting

Gray Funeral Home of Clinton is assisting the Watts family with services.

Leave a Comment