Retired water system manager dies

John Bettis

John Randolph Bettis, retired general manager and chief engineer with the Charleston Water System, died Tuesday at an Orangeburg retirement community. He was 93.

Bettis joined the Charleston Water System as an apprentice engineer. During his 45 years with the utility, he was repeatedly recognized for his accomplishments in the field of water supply management and engineering.

Bettis was born Aug. 20, 1917, in Greenville. After graduating from Greenville High School in 1934, he attended Furman University for two years before transferring to Clemson, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. In June 1941, he married Louise Murray Cauthen of Rowesville. Less than a year later, he was drafted into the Army and served four years. He was discharged as a 1st lieutenant and returned to work with Charleston Water System.

Under his administration, the utility saw its volume of business increase from 14,000 to 65,000 customers and the average daily water use rise from 5 million to 50 million gallons. Also, the city's sewer system was added to the commission's responsibility, and a wastewater treatment plan was enacted to help remove untreated wastewater from Charleston Harbor.

Bettis' dedication was the result of a true concern for the citizens of Charleston, said Wesley Ropp, current chief financial officer at Charleston Water System and a former colleague.

"He would come into the office on the weekends to check pressure gauges and approve invoices," Ropp said. "He really looked out for the citizens of Charleston and felt a public service obligation to them."

Mayor Joe Riley also remembered Bettis as a thorough, hardworking, trustworthy man.

"He commanded respect," Riley said. "You felt like you should stand at attention when talking to him."

Bettis received the two highest awards given by the American Water Works Association -- the George Warren Fuller Award and the Herman F. Wiedman Award. Also, he was named "Water Works Man of the Year" by the organization.

Bettis eventually became director of the American Water Works Association. He also had been director of the Water Pollution Control Federation and a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the S.C. Society of Engineers and the S. C. Water and Sewerage Work Association. He served as president of the Rotary Club of Charleston, chairman of the Salvation Army Advisory Board and president of the Industrial Management Club of Charleston.

After Bettis' retirement in 1985, the Charleston Water System's new headquarters building at 103 St. Philip St. and the John R. Bettis Boat Landing in Hanahan were dedicated in his honor.

Bettis was predeceased by his wife Louise and a son, John Randolph Bettis Jr. He is survived by children Anne Bettis, Vance Jackson Bettis and Susan Fairhurst. There will be a memorial service at the chapel at The Oaks retirement community at 3 p.m. Sunday. Dukes-Harley Funeral Home of Orangeburg is handling the arrangements.