BY JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — The late Deacon Willie C. Carter left a huge imprint on the landscape of St. Petersburg and a lasting legacy as one of the spiritual advisors, mentors and teachers of the Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church Deacons and Men’s Ministry. This Sat., Sept. 19, the Men’s Ministry will hold a tribute honoring his legacy.
“Deacon Carter has been gone for better than 15 years and nobody recognized the things that he contributed,” said Deacon Ervin Brown, president of the Men’s Ministry. “He was a Sunday school teacher and was over our youth church, new membership, and deacon training.”
Several of St. Petersburg’s ministers that now lead their own church were once under Carter’s training including Rev. Ellis Hodge, Rev. Dexter McCree, the late Rev. John Chance and the pastor of Mt. Zion Progressive, Rev. Louis M. Murphy.
“Deacon Carter was a long awaited answered prayer of mine,” explained Murphy. “As a young man I always desired to be a good husband and father. Dealing with the normal challenges of young adulthood, being married and raising two children, I prayed that God would send a mature Christian man in my life to be a role model and help me navigate through life’s journey.”
Murphy feels that God sent him more than what he asked for when sending Carter. He was a friend to him, a mentor, Sunday school teacher, financial advisor, payer warrior, disciplinarian, an entrepreneur and his “father in ministry.”
Carter’s accomplishments as a realtor and businessman were exemplary. During his lifetime he amassed and sold real estate holdings of 43 homes and five apartment complexes. The family still owns 15 homes and all five-apartment complexes that include Starr Tower Complex, Paradise Apartments, Sunnyside Apartments, Carters Quest Apartments and Carter Manor. His son, Danny Carter, manages the properties and is now also a deacon at Mt. Zion Progressive.
“He always said, ‘Above everything else, always keep your word even if it’s inconvenient and always be honest,’” he recounted about his father.
He remembered that his father worked long hours and was a counselor, psychiatrist and social worker to the many people he encountered daily. “He meant what he said and said what he meant,” Deacon Danny Carter stated. “It was not lip service; he would put it into action. My father was a family man who was accessible and was always a resource.”
Carter and wife Vernell shared a love story that lasted for 43 years before his death in 2000. “He was always wise beyond his years,” she reflected. “He was always frank, sometimes too frank,” she laughed. “He felt that there was nothing he couldn’t do. He was a good husband and provider.”
Carter’s daughter, Patty Carter Gamble, credits her father for giving her the confidence that has sustained her. “Anything he told me that I could do, I felt that I could do it,” said Gamble.
Carter cautioned her when she was 12 years old that he and men of his generation might not be emulated by the next generation of men. He wanted to prepare her to not wait for assistance but to learn to do things for herself.
Gamble accompanied her father on his daily rounds and soon learned to cut grass, paint, fix tires and most importantly how to negotiate and talk to people. “I always felt safe in his presence,” she said.
She and her sister, Lillie Denton, also witnessed how he treated their mother and remarked: “It showed me how a man was to respect, care for and treat a woman.”
There are two other Carter children, the eldest son Tony who is deceased and the youngest member of the Carter household, Sean. “Being the youngest of all the children, I was the one always on point,” Sean said.
Sean worked the real estate business from the start, so he spent a lot of time with his father. He was taught to stay on top of things by being there early and keeping focused on the task at hand, even when no one was there to help him.
A self-proclaimed loner, his father would check up on him. He recalled one early morning welfare check by Carter. “He said: ‘Sean Demetrius, how are you doing?’ I said, ‘OK.’ He said, ‘No son, how are you doing?’”
They talked for about an hour, with Sean doing most of the talking. Carter ended the conversation with: “Remember come over Sunday and eat your mother’s cooking.”
Deacon Ronnie Marshall remembered Carter with love and admiration. “He was patient, he wouldn’t give up on you,” Marshall said. “He felt that every person has something to give.” Carter told Marshall that God told him to help people when he could, and for as long as he could.
Marshall said that Carter’s teachings were bible-based principles, and that he taught them how to be responsible leaders by example. “He had a heart for God and a heart for people.”
The Men’s Ministry plan to make this a yearly event by honoring other men with the “Deacon Willie C. Carter Award.”
Tribute will be held at Mt. Zion Progressive, 955 20th St. S, from 4-6 p.m. in the main sanctuary. For more information, please call (727) 224-4477 or (727) 894-4311. Dinner donation $10.