ory By Hilary Brady
Photography By Suzy King
You may have seen him serving on a community board, sweating on a tennis court or watching his children ride the waves at a local beach. Ron Watts is an active local with a heart of gold, recognized by many for his commitment to his community and to his family. But his name wasn’t always well known. He began his life as the man behind the headlines.
Ron Watts, an Atlanta native, began his career as a paperboy. His first job was delivering newspapers for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a job that would set the stage for the next two decades of his life.
In tenth grade, Ron and his family moved from Atlanta to Baltimore, Maryland, as a result of his father’s job as a bottling plant manager with Coca-Cola. Ron enrolled at Dulaney High School and immediately began writing and helping with the school newspaper, as well as playing tennis.
Upon graduation from Dulaney, Ron attended the University of Maryland where he, once again, worked for the daily school newspaper and played intramural tennis. Ron reported, served and studied his way to a Bachelor of Science in Journalism with a minor in Business.
With years of editorial writing under his wing and a love for sports in full swing, it was only natural that Ron’s first job out of college was as sports editor and staff photographer for a weekly paper in Bowie, Maryland. “I made 160 dollars a week and I worked every single day,” laughs Ron. “After four months of that, I realized that I needed to find another job if I wanted to pay the rent.”
Ron was offered a position with a tennis-management company, an opportunity to travel the world and train tennis pros for hotel chains and country clubs. Ron jumped at the offer and worked with the organization for a few years. During his time as a trainer, Ron enrolled in graduate school at Loyola College in Baltimore and pursued an MBA … and love.
Ron met his wife, Adrienne, a fellow MBA student, during his time at Loyola. “I had locked my keys in my car during one of our Saturday morning marketing classes,” explains Ron. “She broke into my car with a coat hanger and grabbed my keys. She denies my recollection of how the exact scenario played out, but I’m pretty certain I’m right.”
Ron not only developed affection for Adrienne, but he also rekindled his love for writing. With a master’s degree in business underway, Ron combined his experience and his schooling and secured a position in the Baltimore Sun’s business department. The former paperboy got back in touch with his roots, hiring young kids to do what he did best — deliver papers. During his ten years with the Baltimore Sun, Ron handled everything from distribution to marketing.
After degrees were earned and careers were kick started, Ron and his now-wife Adrienne felt it was time to pack their bags and head somewhere new. The couple had long vacationed on the Outer Banks and had visited Wrightsville Beach for a family reunion, trips that gave them an opportunity to fall in love with the small-town character that coastal North Carolina offers. “The climate was great and it wasn’t the big city that we had grown up around,” explains Ron. “It was a nice alternative for us.” The Watts moved to Fayetteville after Ron accepted a job with a family run newspaper in the area, The Fayetteville Observer. Over the five years that Ron spent working for the publication, he grew in his position to marketing director, responsible for advertising, circulation and marketing. It was what he wanted and what he intended to do with his MBA — grow into a business position with significant responsibility.
Ron’s next logical business move in the publication industry was to become a publisher at a small newspaper, a job that would require moving around every few years. At this point, Ron had been in the business for 15 years and he and Adrienne both agreed that they were ready to settle down in one place.
The couple decided to move to their beach home in Sunset Beach in the mid-1990s and search for a business to purchase that would allow them to stay put in one location and enjoy the coast while they were at it. “It was a hilarious experience,” recalls Ron. “We looked at 40 or 50 businesses, from a water purification business in Myrtle Beach to a plantation shutter company in Wilmington.”
When Ron and Adrienne purchased their beach home a few years prior, they had developed a connection with the two couples who owned the real estate company. Over the years, the Watts stayed in touch with their friends, only to find out that one of the couples was now ready to retire. Ron and Adrienne jumped at the opportunity and purchased their portion of the business, Sunset Properties. A few years later, the other couple decided to retire and the Wattsbecame full owners of the business.
Sunset Properties has done well over the years, nearly doubling its rental business from 206 to 400 units managed, and with two locations, one in Sunset Beach and one in Ocean Isle. When the Watts moved to the coast, however, they were determined to put work in perspective. What keeps the couple busy when they’re not at the office? Well, that’s the best part. Their family.
When Ron and Adrienne moved to Sunset Beach, they began their family. The couple had a desire to adopt older children. In 2001 they welcomed Jason, age 7, into their family. Just three years later, they brought biological brother and sister, Lance, age 7, and Penny, age 8, into their home. “We thought we were going to help a couple of kids grow up in a safe home,” explains Ron. “But they have helped us as much, if not more.” All three children, now ages 15, 13 and 12, love tennis. Just like their dad.
“I still play a ton of tennis,” says Ron. “When we first moved down here, we played a lot of golf. But we got tired of that quickly. It just takes too much time. Tennis, on the other hand, is competitive and can give you great exercise in just an hour.”
Ron’s time-maximization attitude towards sports also applies to his business life. “Both Adrienne and I love to be involved in our community,” explains Ron. The couple made such a significant contribution to the local Habitat for Humanity that they have a home dedicated in their honor. In addition to serving on the Habitat board, Ron also served on the board for the Brunswick County Tennis Association, on the Sunset Beach Town Council and is currently serving as chairman of the Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce.
The Watts family does find some time to slow down — on the sand. In fact, the family moved from their waterway home in Sunset Beach to Ocean Isle Beach in October just so that they could be closer to the sand and the waves. “The kids love to surf. So we moved,” says Ron.
It is dedication to his family’s happiness, commitment to community, skill on the court, commendable work ethic and a heart for helping people that makes this man one priceless paperboy.