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James William Watts III

June 29, 1942 ~ December 24, 2018 (age 76)



James William Watts III (Bill) was born in Bay St. Louis, MS, on June 29, 1942 to parents James William Watts, Jr., and Virginia Chapman Watts. He passed away in Houston, TX on Monday, December 24, 2018 at the age of 76, from complications related to cancer.

Bill grew up a couple of miles outside of the town of Bay St. Louis, on Watts bayou, where his grandfather maintained a working boatyard. His boyhood was spent playing in the woods and on boats with his younger brothers Alfred and Dick. He also spent his time at the Bay Waveland Yacht Club, where he was a competitive sailor and a member of the BWYC Lipton team, and where he met his future wife. He graduated second in his class at Bay High, and then attended Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, MS, on a football scholarship.  In 1961, in his sophomore year, the PRCC football team was undefeated and ranked first in the nation, outscoring their opponents 446-47. In 1962, Bill transferred to Tulane on a football scholarship. However, during his junior year he developed intense shooting pains down his neck and arms whenever he took a hit to the head, ultimately forcing him to give up football, which was just as well—decades later, he was incidentally found to have congenital cervical spinal stenosis on an MRI, meaning that he had been risking serious injury by playing football.

Fortunately, he was able to convert to an academic scholarship at Tulane. In 1964, he graduated first in engineering from his undergraduate class, received an award as the most outstanding chemistry student, and was inducted into Tau Beta Pi, the engineering equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa, as well as Omicron Delta Kappa, a leadership honorary society. He was also a member of the ATO fraternity. Bill then continued his studies at Tulane in the chemical engineering graduate school. He received one of 13 National Science Foundation fellowships that were awarded in the United States that year, and in 1967 he received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering after three years of graduate school. Bill always valued highly the education he received at Tulane and expressed his gratitude by supporting Tulane with annual donations for many decades.

After graduating with a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, Bill began to work in the oil industry in what would become his area of expertise, reservoir simulation. A reservoir simulator is a large, complex computer program used to guide oil companies in forecasting oil recovery under various operation conditions and in making development and operating decisions for oil and gas reservoirs. Bill used his advanced skills in physics, applied mathematics, and software development to develop more accurate and faster computational methods for reservoir simulation. He was a thought leader in this field, authoring or coauthoring 27 technical papers on various aspects of reservoir simulation, and was granted ten patents on computational methods.  He was well regarded in the industry, gave keynote addresses and moderated or participated in panel discussions on technical topics in meetings of Professional Societies.  He also taught two short courses to petroleum engineering graduate students at Stanford University. He spent most of his career working for Exxon Production Research Company (later ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company); after his retirement in 1997, he worked as an independent consultant to ExxonMobil as well as to several other oil companies, all in the field of reservoir simulation. In 2016, Pearl River Community College honored Bill with a lifetime achievement award.

At the young age of 18, Bill was fortunate to meet the future love of his life, Beatty Geary, at the Bay Waveland Yacht Club.  He and Beatty dated for 7 years, and were happily married for more than 50 years, the majority of which they spent in Houston, TX. Bill was a member of the Bay Waveland Yacht Club, Braeburn Country Club, and served on the West University Soccer Club board. He was a loving father to his daughter Virginia and son Henry, spending many years coaching their youth soccer, little league baseball, and softball teams in West University Place. As the children grew older, Bill and Beatty never missed an opportunity to cheer them on at middle school or high school athletic events. Bill always prioritized the education of his children, and he was proud to have both of his children graduate from St. John’s School and with honors from Ivy league colleges.

Even after his own children had grown out of youth sports, Bill continued his involvement in coaching, including coaching a middle school girls soccer team for a season or two. He was always looking for ways to give to others; the most striking example of this was his decision to donate bone marrow in the early 90’s. Bill had registered with the National Bone Marrow Registry when his niece Kathryn Watts was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 2. Bill was not a match for her, but when he was found to be a match to a young man diagnosed with leukemia, he did not hesitate to go through the surgery required to donate his bone marrow.

In 2000, Bill and Beatty purchased property on Lake Sysladobsis in Lakeville, Maine, where he and Beatty would vacation together every summer for the next 18 years.  These summers in Maine became Bill’s favorite time of the year.  He particularly loved boating, fishing, and sitting on the porch watching the sunset and local wildlife. He also enjoyed all the ruggedness of this rural area of Maine, where he would chop firewood to warm the house, clear trails with a chainsaw, and engineer repairs to anything that required fixing. His favorite thing about Maine, however, was the time he was able to spend there with his children and their families, who would all travel up to Maine for a few weeks each summer.  Bill deeply loved his five grandchildren, Maya, Owen, Sai, Claire, and Jordan, and often said that he loved nothing more than waking up in a pile of grandchildren in the morning.

Bill had a gift for conveying a complicated sentiment with just a few well-chosen words. He was loyal and greatly valued his friendships, many of which spanned decades. Bill was known for his deep intellect, wry sense of humor, integrity, and kindness toward others.

Bill and his family were deeply grateful for the medical care he received at Baylor College of Medicine, and particularly for Dr. Jun Zhang, his pulmonary oncologist, Dr. Timothy Wagner, his radiation oncologist, Dr. Jacob Mandel, his neuro-oncologist, and Dr. Ryan Neal, his final hospitalist. When Bill was first diagnosed with lung cancer with metastases to the brain, there was a treatment decision which had to be made regarding what type of radiation to administer for the brain metastases. Whole brain radiation was the safest option but would result in some loss of cognition; Cyber Knife was a little riskier but would spare more of the healthy brain tissue. On hearing about Bill’s career and intellectual abilities, Dr. Wagner said, “That sounds like a brain worth preserving,” and recommended the Cyber Knife, which was highly successful in controlling his brain tumors. Bill and his family were grateful for his two and half years of relatively good health following his cancer diagnosis, and the family would like to thank the physicians and staff of Baylor College of Medicine and Baylor St. Luke’s Hospital, and particularly Dr. Mandel, who was present with Virginia at the time of Bill’s death.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation or to Lake Stewards of Maine

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