KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Toni Watts died on a North Carolina beach last week. Her family said they took a trip to celebrate Toni's 46th wedding anniversary with her husband.
Her daughter, Joy Chadwick, said this was the first time she and her kids had gone to the beach. It was their first time taking a vacation in years.
Chadwick said her family left Oak Island after a short trip, but her parents stayed back an extra few days. Her father didn't know how to swim, but her mom did and loved it.
"She'd swim like a fish," said Chadwick.
On June 15, the Oak Island Water Rescue posted about a drowning on Facebook.
"Today was another difficult day on the beach," they said.
Chadwick said she doesn't know if it's hit her yet, that she lost her mom.
"I've forced myself to say that my mom drowned and died," she said.
The family said the beach didn't have enough warnings of dangerous conditions in the water. Chadwick said the beach had a flag, an online stream, and QR codes around with the current conditions. But, she said, beachgoers aren't always aware of those.
"We only found out where the flags were after we got home," Chadwick said.
She remembers her mom as someone who always worked hard, volunteered and did what needed to be done. The people at her church could always count on Toni Watts whenever they needed help, she said.
"Pastor Joe said she would come to him and say 'I'm going to be here on whatever day,'" Chadwick said. "'I need you to have a list for me.'"
Chadwick said her mom was a caretaker. She left a high-paying job at TVA, and after she got laid off, she started working as a caretaker, on a low caretaker's salary.
Outside of work, she took care of her family and friends and would invite them to live with her, if they needed help.
Now, Chadwick said, she's thankful for everybody who's returning the favor.
"God has sent all these people to take care of us and to remind us who she was," Chadwick said.
The family is planning on having a celebration of life event at the North Knoxville Baptist Church on Wednesday. Chadwick said dark clothes are not allowed, people have to wear bright clothes and celebrate.