Cover photo for Lt. Gen. Claudius Elmer Watts III's Obituary
Lt. Gen. Claudius Elmer Watts III Profile Photo

Lt. Gen. Claudius Elmer Watts III

September 22, 1936 — October 1, 2023


Lt. Gen. Claudius Elmer Watts III

Lieutenant General Claudius E. Watts III, United States Air Force (Retired) and the 17th President of The Citadel passed away peacefully at his home Sunday, October 1, 2023.  Known as “Bud,” he was a native of Cheraw, South Carolina and was born on September 22, 1936, to parents Claudius E. Watts, Jr. and Blanche Wannamaker Watts.  He attended Cheraw High School where he was both a standout student and three sport athlete.

Attending The Citadel on a full academic scholarship, The Star of the West Scholarship, Lieutenant General Watts distinguished himself in the classroom, as Chairman of the Cadet Honor Committee, as the Third Battalion Commander and as an ROTC cadet.  Upon graduation in 1958, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and attended the London School of Economics and Political Science as a Fulbright Scholar.  Lieutenant General Watts then returned to the United States and graduated from pilot training in 1960.  

That same year, he married Jane Sims of Marianna, Florida.  Jane then partnered with him on their long, distinguished journey of service to country, community, and The Citadel. 

As an Air Force Officer, Lieutenant General Watts amassed 7,000 flight hours as a Command Pilot, flying around the world as an aircraft commander and conducting flight operations on every continent, including Antarctica. His service included 276 combat missions in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times, as well as other gallantry and combat awards.

Lieutenant General Watts held leadership positions of increasing importance throughout his Air Force career and commanded flying units at multiple levels, including an Airlift Group and an Airlift Wing. 
Other senior assignments included tours as the Director of the Air Force Budget at the Pentagon, Senior Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and the final posting of his thirty-one years of uniformed service as Comptroller of the Air Force.  He also served as Chairman of the Board for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, one of the largest retail businesses in the United States.

Lieutenant General Watts’ decorations include 44 awards for both combat and peacetime achievement, including the United States’ highest non-combat award, the Defense Distinguished Service medal.  

While on active duty, Lieutenant General Watts studied at the London School of Economics, earned an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, earned degrees from the Army Command and General Staff College and the National War College, and completed the Program for Senior Managers in Government at Harvard University. 

In 1989, Lieutenant General Watts retired from the Air Force and was named the 17th President of The Citadel, his Alma Mater.  His leadership was immediately tested with Hurricane Hugo, which severely damaged key structures across campus, and forced the college to close for more than three weeks.  His seven-year tenure was marked by a rapid recovery from the hurricane, improvements in programs and facilities, a once in a decade overall academic reaccreditation, and recertification of individual areas of scholarship. While at The Citadel, he also served on the NCAA Council, the governing body for college athletics, several associated committees, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Board.

Lieutenant General Watts was an avid Citadel sports fan and believed that athletics are a major aspect of developing character and leadership at The Citadel. He considered two of the highest points of his tenure as The Citadel’s President to be the baseball team’s 1990 trip to the College World Series in Omaha and the football team’s 1992 Southern Conference championship. After leaving The Citadel, he continued regular attendance at football, basketball, and baseball games. If he was physically able, and The Citadel was playing at home, then chances were high that he was in attendance, laser focused on the game - and avoiding “chit chat.” In 2018, he was inducted as an Honorary Member of The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame, an honor that delighted him. 

After retiring from The Citadel in 1996, Lieutenant General Watts became a Founding Director of the Carolina Financial Corporation. He was ultimately elected Chairman of the Board of Directors in 2007 and subsequently led the board as the bank navigated the perilous 2008-2009 financial crisis as well as the Corporation’s aggressive post crisis growth and its debut as a public company.  He retired from the board in 2015. 

Lieutenant General Watts is survived by his wife, Jane, their two children, Claudius E. “Bud” Watts IV (Lesa) and Patricia Watts Heck (Timothy), four grandchildren, Kathryn Watts Burlingame (Marshall), Claudius E. “Beau” Watts V, Olivia J. Heck, Timothy J. “TJ” Heck, and his brother Herbert W. Watts.

A service honoring the life of Lieutenant General Watts will be held at Summerall Chapel on The Citadel campus at 11:00 am, Thursday, October 5, 2023.  He will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on a future date to be announced. The service may be viewed by visiting


In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to The Citadel Foundation’s Academic Enhancement Fund or the Citadel Brigadier Foundation’s Memorial Fund (supporting athletic scholarships).  Both can be addressed to 171 Moultrie Street, Charleston, SC 29409.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Lt. Gen. Claudius Elmer Watts III, please visit our flower store.

Past Services

Funeral Service

Thursday, October 5, 2023

11:00am - 12:00 pm (Eastern time)

Summerall Chapel at The Citadel

171 Moultrie St, Charleston, SC 29409

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


Visits: 955

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the
Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Service map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

Send Flowers

Send Flowers

Plant A Tree

Plant A Tree