Willie Carter, whose legendary careers as a teacher, principal, golf pro, and owner of the Willie Carter Golf Center died unexpectedly on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 in Middletown, NY. He was 84.
The beloved son of the late Aaron and Rosalyn Bynum Carter, he was born on April 30, 1926 in Camden, S.C and grew up in Mamaroneck, NY. He served in the U.S. Air Force prior to receiving his undergraduate degree in elementary education from Fayetteville State Teacher’s College in North Carolina in 1951, and his Masters degree in School Administration from New York University.
Always determined to break down barriers, Willie believed that even in the most difficult environment, dreams come true if you simply set goals. He was often quoted as saying, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.” A resourceful, twelve year-old Willie proved that, when he and his brother Leroy would bury coffee cans in their abandoned, empty parking lot behind their apartment building in Mamaroneck, to create their own three-hole golf course. Then they would compete to see who could become “pro”. Years later, Willie’s dream came true when he began setting and breaking course records from the first day he picked up a seven iron.
It’s no surprise then, that Willie’s “coming of age” occurred somewhere between the 1st and 18th holes at the famed Winged foot Golf Course in Westchester County, NY. As a young African American male growing up in the 30’s and 40’s, he caddied for many high-profile celebrity golfers including Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Ed Sullivan ( for $1 a round)- and played with former Tiger Woods mentor, Butch Harmon. Willie’s powerful swing won him seven caddie caddie tournaments before graduating form college in 1950 and 20+ years later, Willie found himself coaching Gary Player on his back swing at a PGA tournament.
Local history was made in 1963 when Willie became the first African American Golf Pro in Orange County and the subject of a New York Times article: Professional Finds Golf is Color Blind: “Negro instructor is Doing Well at Central Valley Golf Club.” Carter is quoted in the article about how it felt to be a Negro pro at that time, “I felt honored to be picked when there were so many well qualified Caucasian pros in the area. But I wondered how I would be received. I figured women might be reluctant to take lessons from me and that men would break the ice. I guessed wrong. The women were my first pupils. After I helped them, others followed. Then the men began to schedule appointments with me.”
While pursuing his passion for golf, Willie was determined to achieve another dream: to become an educator. He began his local teaching career as a physical education instructor and 6th grade teacher before achieving yet another first in 1968- by becoming the first African American principal in the Middletown School District. His motivational approach to teaching and learning and his charismatic personality catapulted him into an illustrative career that spanned decades. His “School as a Feeling” approach-deeply rooted in the belief that children learn best when valued as individuals- became a model for many teaching institutions both public and parochial in many states in the northeast and Nova Scotia.
And as originator and creator of the Middletown Youth Clubs, Willie drafted 210 volunteers to actively engage 3000 students throughout the Middletown School District in afternoon and evening club activities that interested them- from gymnastics to chess, dance to sewing. Willie served as principal for over 20 years before his retirement in 1992.
After consulting on the creation of the town of Wallkill Golf Club in 1992, Willie joined as its first Golf Pro and Director. That same year, Willie leveraged his natural talents for teaching and golf by creating the Willie Carter Golf Center where he was able to share his love of golf with thousands of students. He will always be remembered for his spectacular rounds of 33 for 9 holes with his seven iron- and 34 for 9 holes with his putter.
Willie was the recipient of many awards and honors including the NAACP 100th Anniversary Lifetime Community Leadership Achievement Award (2009); an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters form Mount Saint Mary College (2007), Orange County’s Ten Most Outstanding Men Award (2003); the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award (2001); Orange County Human Rights Commission Award (1999); Fayetteville State University Hall of fame(1995); Mamaroneck High School Hall of Fame(1980); Middletown Jaycees, Citizen of the Year Award (1979) and numerous others.
Willie lived in Middletown with his wife Earnestine La Grande Carter and is survived by his two daughters, Sharon Carter of Nashville, TN and Jackie Carter of NYC, his brother Leroy Carter of New Haven, CT and his sister Elizabeth Carter Covington of Mamaroneck, NY. Willie is also survived by numerous cousins, nieces and nephews around the country. He is predeceased by his brother, Thomas Carter.
Visitation hours are from 1 to 5 pm on Saturday, September 18, 2010 at the William A. Carter Gymnasium at Mechanicstown Elementary School, 4 53 East Main Street, Middletown, NY 10940. The Mechanicstown Caroleers will conduct a musical tribute, and a prayer service led by Rev. Jin Kim will take place at 4:00 pm Saturday afternoon. Celebrating his love for music, in New Orleans style, Willie’s funeral will be ushered in with a Dixieland band at 2 pm on Sunday, September 19, 2010 at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 58 West Main Street, Middletown.
Burial with Military honors will follow at Orange County Veterans Cemetery, 111 Craigville Road, Goshen, NY 10924.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Willie’s name may be made to the Willie Carter Foundation, P.O. Box 46, Middletown, NY 10940. The Willie Carter Foundation is a 501 c 3 Charitable Organization that provides golf scholarships based on academic merit to college bound students. The scholarship is based on Willie’s belief that “it is always better to be prepared and not have an opportunity, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.”
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Applebee-McPhillips Funeral Home, Inc.; www.applebee-mcphillips.com