Saturday, July 18, 2015

A tribute to my father, on the day we affirm Christ's resurrection

In loving memory of Glenn Carter
July 18, 2015

On behalf of our family, thank you for coming. Your companionship in our sorrow gives great comfort. Grief is always personal work, but none of us should ever grieve in isolation. We appreciate your support more than you can ever know.

I stand in praise of the tallest man in my world. When I was a little kid, I measured my growth by the next button on his dress shirt. When I surpassed him in altitude, I still kept looking up to my dad. His life has been a witness to the extraordinary grace of God, a grace that invites us to stretch to our fullest potential, while always extending our arms to serve those around us.

Glenn Carter was the fifth of nine children given to Margaret and Norris. We are grateful for the siblings, nephews, and nieces who can be with us today. Since Dad was the kid in the middle, he had to learn how to distinguish himself. His parents lived modestly in a farmhouse in Dempseytown, Pennsylvania. They didn't have much, especially in the Great Depression when dad was born. Brothers shared the same beds. Dinners and clothes were homemade. College seemed impossible. But through a combination of hard work and gracious breaks, my father lived a remarkable life.

He entered the US Navy after graduating high school, which greatly enlarged his world. Returning to marry his prom date, he and Betsy bought a trailer and moved to northeastern Indiana. That was where Dad enrolled in a small engineering college that specialized in educating returning vets. Dad aced the entrance exams and did very well in school while working full time. He was elected president of his senior class, in the same year I was born.

After a short stint for a company in Akron, Ohio, he landed a job with IBM in 1962. Owego has been his home ever since. He always kept his small town roots and community commitments, although his world was never small.

Dad’s work at IBM was brilliant and impressive. He was a smart manager, a tough negotiator, and largely responsible for winning contracts that brought hundreds of jobs to this county. Much of his work was highly classified, and my siblings and I rarely knew why he flew to Wichita, Seattle, and a few undisclosed locations. Once in a while, an unclassified story would leak from his lips. He told us how he met Presidents Reagan and Bush, and once traded conversational bullets with Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

At age 52, when IBM wanted to lower the average age of its employees, Dad stunned a lot of people by taking an early retirement. He said he had enough of the corporate life. With that, he tried his hand at consulting and did very well. He split three years between Owego and Washington DC, but the time came when he was done with working on the road.

So that is when he began his third career: economic development for Tioga County. "It is time to give something back to my community," he told me. "I have a closet full of suits and I know how to talk with companies about jobs. I will do this until my current neckties go out of style." Well, this is Owego. You can wear the same necktie forever. Dad gave many years of his life to enhancing the employment of the community where he lived.

Dad was intellectually restless. He was enormously curious about the world. He never thought in small or limited terms. Privately he confessed he had little time for fools, but he had the rare ability to make the smallest person feel like a giant. When you were around him, you always wanted to be a better person.

Once he called me from a phone booth to say he was coming through my town. "Let's have coffee." After playing me along, he revealed he was returning from Manhattan from a meeting with Governor Mario Cuomo. Then he showed me an enormous check in his breast pocket. "Want to touch it?" he asked. "But you can't hold onto it. It belongs to the people of Tioga."

This man from modest circumstances became a mentor for many. My classmates who considered careers in engineering were invited to stop by and chat.  He was our scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 38, and it was his encouragement that pushed me to become an Eagle Scout. The scouting council honored him for decades of leadership by bestowing on him the rare Silver Beaver award. Likewise he enjoyed his longtime membership in the Rotary Club of Owego, believing strongly in its motto of Service Above Self.

A childhood Methodist, Dad became a venerable Presbyterian through marriage. He served repeated terms as a ruling elder in his congregation, and was totally incapable of sitting on his hands or being quiet when leadership was needed. He was elected moderator of the Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley and served with great distinction. Leadership was his lifetime vocation, and he believed his leadership should benefit as many people as possible.

He believed the highest good is the public good. One time we went together to a church conference on faith and economics. Sitting in a small group for discussion, he barked, “There is too much greed in this country. Don’t the robber barons realize we rise and fall together?” He looked at me and asked, “Do you ever tell your people something like that in your sermons?”

Yet he knew how to focus on the people right in front of him. His love and devotion for Mom built an extraordinary 58-year partnership. My brother and sisters and I experienced his love as a certainty in our lives. And he adored his grandchildren, reading Dr. Seuss stories, taking them for rides on a larger-than-necessary lawn tractor, toasting s’mores and drinking root beer floats.

There are a lot of memories: I recall vacations in the paneled station wagon, the constant stops to read every historical marker along the highway, and the endless leveling of the pop-up camper (don’t ever go camping with an engineer!). He took us along when he went spotlighting deer. For all of his office intensity, Dad loved to get outdoors. You can take the man out of Dempseytown, but you can’t take the Dempseytown out of the man.

It would never occur to Dad to spend money on a Caribbean cruise. IBM had rewarded him with many trips, but he and Mom chose to putter around a family cottage near where he raised. It kept him in touch with his family and his roots. The cottage became a temporary hunting camp for his brothers and his nephews, but it was also a playground, first for his four children, and then his grandchildren, who enjoyed a number of Cousin Camps where their parents were not allowed to attend.

I remember a father who was emotionally present for every baseball game and school concert, even if he was traveling for work. If he went to Seattle to consult with Boeing, he might bring back a goose down sleeping bag from REI for one of his sons. If he had to work long hours, he still took each of his daughters out to swanky restaurants for birthday dates.  

In later years, Dad was my traveling companion. We walked the footsteps of Jesus in Israel, and then the footsteps of the apostle Paul in Greece and Turkey. In fact, we almost lost him one day in Palestinian territory when he pointed a camera at an Israeli soldier who pointed an Uzi at him. Dad decided to take his seat on the tour bus and later admitted, “Well, that made me feel alive.” He lived the words of St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a person fully alive.”

It is indeed Glenn’s faith, lived in the real world and nurtured in this sanctuary, which prompts us to praise God for the gift of Dad's life and to celebrate his home-going. He heard the Gospel preached here and he believed it. He knew in his bones that the deep grace of Jesus covers our brokenness, and all of us are held in a greater love than we can imagine. My greatest faith memory was sitting in a pew on the center aisle, with Dad singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy" in a morning voice so low that it could crack concrete. Glenn Carter believed the hymns he sang, and it made all the difference in his life.

We offer him to God today. We thank God for the gift of his life. We praise God for how God carried him and commissioned him to be a servant.  Years ago, a heart valve replacement first reminded Dad of his vulnerability; his response was to keep giving his heart away for the benefit of others.

God is so good. When illness made Dad forgetful, God remembered him – and God proved it by surrounding our father with people who loved him. At the center was our devoted Mom who never left his side; David has been the brilliant problem-solver; Mary has been the hands and heart of Jesus; and daughter Debbie will always be the one who most resembles our father. Even when Dad faced weakness, as all of us shall, he claimed the grace and dignity that comes from knowing he was a child of God. Maybe that is his final lesson for all of us.

Thank you for loving our Dad. It is now that we give Glenn Carter back to the God who loves him even more than we do. With deep gratitude, we commend this very tall man to the eternal joy of Jesus Christ, our savior.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.


  1. Phenomenal tribute!

    1. i agree with you 100%. He was really a giant for Christ. May God be with you as you grieve.

  2. What a wonderful testament to a gentle and courageous man whose source of life is obviously Christ. Thank you for inspiring us who know only the legacy of you his children. Kent Ira Groff