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Mary Carolyn Tatum Watson obituary
Bamberg, SC - Mary Carolyn Tatum Watson of Bamberg, SC, passed away peacefully in her sleep on Saturday, December 30, 2023 at the age of 92
The daughter of John May Tatum and Elizabeth (Bess) Kirkland Tatum, Mary Carolyn was the youngest of three children born on August 24, 1931. As a self-described “army brat,” Mary Carolyn was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana as her family transferred many times until 1943, when her father, Colonel Tatum, who was educated at West Point Military Academy, was assigned overseas to the CBI Theater (China, Burma, India).
While waiting on his return, her mother moved Mary Carolyn, a rising seventh grader, and her sister Betty and brother Johnny to Bamberg, South Carolina, to live with Mary Carolyn’s grandmother. Bamberg became her permanent home after her father’s safe return and transition into civilian life.
Mary Carolyn graduated as valedictorian from Bamberg High School in 1949 where she loved English and writing (she started a neighborhood newsletter at 14) and was editor of “The Dragon.”
She graduated cum laude from Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, in May 1953 with a BA in Piano and Music Education. Mary Carolyn participated in many campus activities, including the Wesley Foundation, the Field Hockey team, and the Choir. She played powder puff football in the yearly “Ludy Bowl,” performed in the annual college follies, and was elected to the May Court. She was fine arts editor of the “Criterion,” the college’s literary magazine. Mary Carolyn was active in student government and served as Vice President of the student body her Senior year, was elected as Most Womanly, and was named in Who’s Who in American Universities and Colleges. After graduation, Mary Carolyn taught piano in the Columbia College pre-college Music Department for three years.
On September 1, 1956, Mary Carolyn married the love of her life, Dr. Michael Cunningham Watson (Mike), who predeceased her in death. They prayed for and raised six children: Mary Beth, Mike Jr., Caroline, Cal, John, and Aurelia. They loved hosting Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) at their home, attending their children’s sports events and school functions, and actively supported the activities of each child. Mary Carolyn also loved entertaining their large extended family, and planned trips, events, and annual family reunions.
Mike's mother and father each spent their final months in her home and Mary Carolyn’s father was cared for in her home for an extended period before his decline required his move a short distance away to the Bamberg Nursing Center, which was across the street from Mike's office. Mary Carolyn, Mike, and the children continued daily visits until his passing. Mary Carolyn was also a caregiver for her mother and several elderly relatives, and later, for her beloved husband. She was a wonderful and considerate daughter, wife, mother, aunt, cousin, mother-in-law, and loved being a grandmother and great-grandmother.
To have Mary Carolyn as a friend was to have a friend for life. She made birthdays special, her card writing was legendary, and an upcoming wedding of a friend’s child rarely took place without a party at her home. Her homemade bread coupled with Mike’s honey was a staple for celebrations and for the bereaved. With Mike as a family portrait photographer and developer, the Watson family made hundreds of Christmas cards to send to their many friends each year. Mary Carolyn truly “ran” the Watson household and those that worked with her became her best friends and confidants.
Mary Carolyn never stopped loving music. Her house was filled with classical music, she played piano for church services and for the children’s choir, for community events, and in skilled care facilities. She taught piano in her home and cherished her many accomplished students. Her children remember drifting off at night with the sounds of her practicing for an upcoming community theater performance, hymns, or playing her favorite composers: Mozart, Schumann and Beethoven.
Mary Carolyn and Mike were avid, life-long United Methodists and raised their children in Trinity United Methodist Church in Bamberg. Besides playing the piano, she taught and attended Sunday School, and sang in the choir. Her faith in her Lord was pure and inspirational. She volunteered as the newsletter editor and served as a full partner as Mike became one of the founders of the United Methodist Volunteers in Missions (“UMVIM”), a international short term mission work program in which hundreds of thousands have participated and many more have benefited. After Mike’s passing, she continued advocating for and supporting UMVIM.
Mary Carolyn‘s love for children expanded beyond her own family. She supported the lives of many other children through church, school, and community activities. She was an advocate for the partnership between Trinity United Methodist Church and Mount Carmel, a neighboring United Methodist Church, which transformed a former neighborhood drug den into a community after-school “mission cottage” program, the Shalom Zone Mission Cottage. Mary Carolyn established a mentoring organization, the Bamberg Young Mothers Program. She also initiated and was President of the Books for Babies project to distribute free books to underprivileged children in the Bamberg area.
Mary Carolyn served in many leadership roles, including President of the Bamberg Hospital Auxiliary, the Apollo Music Club, Columbia College Alumni Association, and the United Methodist Women. She was a Family Life Coordinator, member of Trinity’s Administrative Board and led its Music Committee. She served as a member of the State Textbook Selection Committee, the Bamberg County Arts Commission, and the Parents Advisory Committee for Wofford College.
Mary Carolyn loved Bamberg, her friends, selfless service to others, her church, music, and her family. She loved pets of all kinds, but dogs had a special place in her heart. She was proud of her husband’s and children’s accomplishments but humble about her own. In recognition of her service, she was named the 1986 South Carolina Mother of the Year. Her soft heart was legendary as she donated her time, tithes, and talents to community causes.
Mary Carolyn spent her last few months in The Palmettos of Parklane in Columbia where she continued making new friends, maintaining her positive outlook, and her ministry of reaching out to friends and family. Her family appreciates the loving care she received there. Her family also wants to thank Teranda Gibson for her 15 years of able and loving assistance and continued friendship.
Mary Carolyn Watson is survived by her six (6) children, Mary Elizabeth (“Mary Beth”) Watson-Manheim (Frank Kelly) of Chicago, IL, Michael Cunningham (“Mike”) Watson, Jr. (Tammy) of Raleigh, NC, Caroline Nicholson Watson of Charleston, SC, Joseph Calhoun (“Cal”) Watson (Cathy) of Columbia, SC; John Tatum Watson (Donna Weagel) of Atlanta, GA, and Aurelia Cunningham Watson Nelson (Joe) of Boise, ID. She is also survived by her eight (8) grandchildren, Wayne Cooper (“Cooper”) Fritz Jr. (Katie), Catherine Tatum Watson Bradley (Patrick), Joseph Calhoun (“Jay”) Watson Jr, Elizabeth Kirkland ("Bess") Watson, John Samuel (“Sam”) Nelson, Sydney Grace Nelson, Conrad Tatum Watson and Vincent (“Vince”) Sinclair Watson. Additionally, she is survived by her great granddaughter Leigh Sage (“Leigh”) Fritz and numerous beloved nieces, nephews, and cousins. In addition to her parents and her husband, Mary Carolyn was predeceased by her sister, Elizabeth Kirkland Tatum Bell (Betty) and brother, John May Tatum, Jr.
A Celebration of Life service will be held on Saturday, January 13, 2024, at 2:00pm, at Trinity United Methodist Church in Bamberg, and the family will receive friends in the fellowship hall after the service. Memorials may be made to United Methodist Volunteers in Missions, c/o Jennifer Parker, 143 Glenbrooke Circle, Columbia, SC 29204; or Trinity United Methodist Church, PO Box 335, Bamberg, SC 29003