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Rosa Lee Watson Passes Away on Thanksgiving, Towards Heaven She Rises To Be With Doc and Merle

Rosa Lee stands with Doc and Merle as they tune before a show at Freedom Park on July 4, 1982. Photo by Jim Morton

By Jesse Wood

Nov. 23, 2012. Rosa Lee Carlton Watson, the wife of the legendary Doc Watson, passed away on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 22. 

Rosa Lee had a stroke some time ago and was residing at Glenbridge Health and Rehabilitation, where Doc frequently visited, bringing along some of his musician friends to pick a tune or two for Rosa. 

Born on February 5, 1931, to her mother and father, Lucy Robbins Carlton and celebrated old-time fiddler Gaither Carlton, Rosa Lee Watson died at the age of 81.

Doc and Rosa Lee married in 1947, and their first child, the late, great Merle Watson, was born in 1949.

Nancy Watson, their second child, was born in 1951, and she still resides in Deep Gap. 

At every show or press conference where Doc performed or spoke, he always spoke lovingly of his Rosa Lee, who “kept the home fires burning” while he was on the road playing music to make a living. 

At his last press conference for the MusicFest ‘n Sugar Grove, Doc said, “To me entertainment is a pleasure, but my main motive is – and I’m going to get a little deep right here – when I started out in the folk revival, my main motive was to earn a living for a sweet little woman and two children. And they were both young then, and every time I got a good concert done and made a little extra money it pleased me.”

The two were married for nearly 66 years before Doc’s passing earlier this year, and Doc repeatedly said, “And I wouldn’t take a dollar for one minute of it.” 

According to the CD booklet in the 3-CD set of Legacy, recorded with David Holt, “Rosa Lee remembers Doc and her father sitting under a shade tree and playing for hours…and that’s how he and Rosa Lee first met.”

“When Rosa Lee was 13, Doc came by while she was unloading dishes with Pansy Watson. This was a turning point for Doc, he fell in love.”

But they didn’t start courting until years later, but on that afternoon when Rosa Lee, said, “Hey Arthel,” Doc’s heart skipped and his knees grew weak. 

During performances, Doc spoke about Rosa Lee – more times than not. At that aforementioned press conference, he said, “Now, I am going to talk more about her than me, and I’ll hush.”

He proceeded to tell this story, one that showed how hard Rosa Lee worked while he was on the road. 

One summer or spring, Doc couldn’t remember which, he borrowed money from Watauga Savings and Loan to build a cellar out of cinder blocks on their property in Deep Gap.

The fall of that year, his oldest brother Linney visited after the building was finished. He was standing in the doorway to the new cellar, where rows and rows of jars of food were placed, and was real quiet.

Doc said, “He wasn’t saying a word. I said, ‘What are you so quiet about.’ And he said, ‘Shh … I’m still a-counting.'”

He counted for two, three, four, five minutes, and said, “I don’t believe it. There are 500 jars of can food on those shelves.”

Doc continued, “I said, ‘Well, that’s what I built them for. I didn’t tell her how many to put in there, and she grew most of it and filled those shelves, so we would have plenty of food for the winter.'”

Hampton Funeral and Cremation Service is in charge of the arrangements, which are incomplete at this time.


Rosa Lee Carlton Watson

Rosa Lee Carlton Watson, age 81, of Deep Gap, died Thursday, November 22, 2012, at Glenbridge Health and Rehabilitation in Boone.

Mrs. Watson is survived by one daughter, Nancy Ellen Watson of Deep Gap; one granddaughter, Karen Watson Norris of Deep Gap; one grandson, Richard Eddie Watson and wife Annette of Deep Gap; three great-granddaughters, Candis Amber Watson of Boone, Chelsea Michelle Norris of Blowing Rock, and Sarah Elizabeth Norris of Deep Gap; one great-grandson, Michael Channing Norris, II of Deep Gap; two great great-grandsons, Tanten Webb of Boone, and Brennon Kilgore of Blowing Rock; three sisters, Irene Lewis of Boone, Pearlee Shipley and husband Howard of Lenoir, and Marlene Marley and husband Charles of Ferguson, and one brother, Jay Carlton and wife Carrolyn of Boomer. She is also survived by a number of nieces and nephews.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Arthel “Doc” Watson; one son Eddy Merle Watson; her father and mother, Gaither and Lucy Robbins Carlton; two brothers, Everette Alonzo Robbins, and Robert Vaughn Carlton, and one sister, Violet Hamby.

Funeral arrangements for Rosa Lee Carlton Watson are incomplete at this time.

Friends may call at the home of the daughter Nancy Ellen Watson, 217 Sunny Hill Lane, Deep Gap. The family requests that anyone visiting not wear any scented body products.

Online condolences may be sent to the Watson family at www.hamptonfuneralnc.com.

Hampton Funeral and Cremation Service is in charge of the arrangements.