Watts Led the Way for Women in D.C.
By Victoria Rocha, NRECA
Carolyn Ann Herr Watts, a trailblazer among Washington, D.C., lobbyists who held key leadership roles at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, died Jan. 3 of complications from diabetes. She was 65.
Watts forged a career in government relations at a time when few women worked as lobbyists. In 1975, she joined the newly-founded Women in Government Relations and helped expand the group to more than 700 members. At NRECA, where she began as a lobbyist in 1977 and became legislative director a few years later, she handled issues relating to taxes, telecommunications and pole attachments.
Equal treatment in rural areas was a passion of hers, said Watts’ colleagues. One of her most significant accomplishments was leading the legislative charge in 1987 that led to direct broadcast satellite TV in rural areas, including the launch of DIRECTV.
Watts left NRECA in 1994 when she became acting assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs in the Department of Energy. She moved to North Carolina in 1996 when she became vice president for corporate relations at North Carolina EMC and then senior vice president for competitive strategies until her retirement in 2008.
“Carolyn was a pioneer for not only women in the cooperative network, but for fighting for rural members to have the same opportunities as others — for both telecom services and enhanced electric service,” said Nelle Hotchkiss, who succeeded Watts as senior vice president, corporate relations. “There were a lot of firsts that came with Carolyn.”