Leaving a 'lasting legacy'

Mary Swain, right, is seen with her mother, Betty Watcher, last year at Sunset Country Club.
Mary Swain, right, is seen with her mother, Betty Watcher, last year at Sunset Country Club.

Wonderful, compassionate, loving and serving to others. Those are just a few words used to describe Betty Watcher by her daughter Mary and Mary’s husband, David Swain. Watcher, a longtime Sumterite, died Dec. 3 of last year.

Watcher was a registered nurse, in addition to raising Mary and five other children, along with her husband, Pete.

In honor of her life that served as an inspiration to so many, David and Mary Swain, and David’s brother, Dr. Chris Swain, and his wife, Debora, pledged a seven-figure gift just before Watcher’s death to The Citadel to help establish a nursing program at the school. The Swain Department of Nursing is being established this year at the college.

The Swain brothers, both graduates of The Citadel, also had a professional interest in building a nursing program at the school. Together, the Swain brothers founded the Ob Hospitalist Group in Mauldin in 2006 with a vision to elevate women’s health care by providing quality medical care to expectant mothers. More than a decade later, the operation is the nation’s largest dedicated obstetrician-gynecologist hospitalist provider, specializing in women’s health. The brothers know firsthand the critical value of skilled nurses. For nine years, David Swain served as chief executive officer of the firm, while his brother, Chris, a veteran OB/GYN doctor himself, still runs the clinical side as chief medical officer.

David Swain said the inspiration of his mother-in-law, Betty Watcher, runs much deeper than any professional interest.

“She had a lasting legacy that goes beyond her own kids and grandchildren to also influence us to make decisions about helping nursing programs,” Swain said Wednesday.

Mary Swain describes her mom as a compassionate servant to those entrusted to her care.

“She was from the old school of nursing, where you gave excellent bedside care,” Mary said. “In her day, you would give back rubs to patients and do a lot of hands-on care. In growing up, Mom had a very high view of nursing and service to others and helping others.”

Mary recalls when she was a teenager, her mom went back to work as a nurse at Tuomey Hospital and later served in the hospital’s home health care system while also raising her six children.

Mary said her mom would often share stories with her and her siblings of people she cared for as a nurse, especially in home health.

“She would walk into some interesting situations in home health, and she would tell us about taking care of these people,” Mary said. “In these stories while we were growing up, she showed she was a very compassionate person, and she loved serving others.”

Watcher not only served her patients and family, but she also served others. Mary said her mom was an active member of St. Anne Catholic Church and also developed and took charge of the funeral meals at the church for many years.

Later, after her own son, Tony Watcher — Mary’s brother — died in 2005, Watcher and her friends started a group called “Mothers of Angels” for mothers who had lost children in tragic ways. She served them by having them in her home every month to meet as a group, Mary said.

“So she was always serving people and always cared about other people deeply,” Mary said. “Those are the qualities I saw in her life.”

According to Mary, a Sumter High School graduate, when it came time for her to choose a career, her mom encouraged her to go into nursing also.

Mary did and said it was a great fit for her, too, because she says she had learned from her mom how to treat other people well. She served as a nurse for seven years, but as her family grew, she decided it was best to be a stay-at-home mom. Mary also has six kids — five daughters and one son. Her oldest child, Kathryn, the oldest of Watcher’s 20 grandchildren, also followed her grandmother’s footsteps as a nurse. Another daughter, Anna, is pursuing a nursing career as well.

After moving back to Sumter in the 1990s, Mary and husband, David, live in Woodruff, outside of Greenville. Mary has two sisters and one brother, Mike, who still lives in Sumter. Two brothers, Tony and Rob, are deceased.

David Swain said all of Watcher’s children have wonderful memories of her.

“They saw her as a professional and also a wonderful mom and grandmother, too,” Swain said.

Watcher is survived by her husband, Pete, of Sumter. They were married for 59 years.

According to Swain, the seven-figure gift to establish The Citadel’s new nursing school is during a two-year period. Swain said there will likely be another phase of giving by the family later.