A brother they called Biggie
On July 27, Tammy Parris called the Post to say her uncle, Gary Wayne “Biggie” Carter, had died the day before.
Fifteen to 20 years ago, she added, the Post had done a story about him titled “What happened to Biggie?”
He was a mentally handicapped man who was a neighborhood favorite, and at that time, he had hopped a train and hitchhiked his way to New Mexico.
A story in the Post on Sept. 13, 1983, came at the request of his frantic relatives who couldn’t sleep or think or do anything but jump when the phone rang and drive around Salisbury and Rowan County looking for their brother.
At that time he’d been gone a week, and his sisters were wild with worry.
“I don’t know what happened,” Linda Cook of China Grove said then after her second trip to The Post asking for help. “I’m just about crazy. I don’t know if I’m coming or going.
“I don’t have no idea where he could be. I get phone calls from somebody who thinks they’ve seen him and finally get up with the person and it’ll be somebody else. I reckon I’ve drove 2,000 miles just looking for him.
“I just feel like if he was where he could get ahold of me or call me, he would do it. I just feel like something’s happened to him or he’s dead somewhere. I’m sure that’s what it’s going to come out to in the end … ”
But it didn’t.
When he disappeared in 1983, Gary ó called Biggie by his family since he was a baby ó was 33 years old, weighed about 140 pounds and was 5 feet 9 inches tall ó and was retarded, which was the main reason his sisters were so worried.
He had lived with his sister Linda since their mother died nearly 11 years earlier, and he had never run away from home though he had run away from Heritage Home, where he lived for a while, several times, headed for home.
In 1983, Biggie had last been seen Sept. 2 at their father’s house in the Chestnut Hill area of Salisbury, where he had stayed while Linda and her family went to the beach.
She tried to get him to come along but he wanted to wait until the next day.
He was gone when his father woke up the next morning. By afternoon they were all worried. It wasn’t like him, and he always called his sister, but he had to get somebody else to help him dial the phone.
Biggie was born retarded, his sister said, but their mother was always sick, and when she died he moved in with Linda.
He didn’t go to regular school. He went to Murdoch School for retarded children for about five years. He was about 10 then.
And after that he went to the Rowan Vocational Workshop.
The Rowan County Sheriff’s Department had no leads.
Problems with Biggie had cropped up several months earlier when he stole a pair of pants.
“He had to go to court,” Linda said, “and the judge ordered him put in a home. They were supposed to put him in a home for others like him, but they couldn’t find any openings, so they put him in the Social Services Heritage Home for adults, but he kept running away.”
He went back to court and the judge turned him over to Linda.
He cried when he ran away, said Linda’s younger sister, Vickie. “He told me he just didn’t like it there because the old people would scream at night. It made him have nightmares.”
His sisters looked for him constantly. They got a phone call that someone had seen him on a bicycle, and the sisters didn’t know where to turn except the Post and phone numbers were published again, asking people to call if they saw him.
Vickie believed something had happened. He’d never stayed gone on purpose before.
“I believe something happened to him … ” she kept saying.
What happened then the Post apparently never knew.
But it heard from the family again during the next few days.
And things changed.
“My best friend, Betty Donahue, was someone he could always go to,” says Tammy. “He always told me if he needed anything, he knew he could call her. … He knew he could call her for anything. When he found out he had cancer, she comforted him. She was there for everything. She bought him whatever he wanted, and I always wanted to thank her for that.
“She stepped in like she was his mother or sister to make sure he was happy. She was there, and he always said he knew she loved him.”
Everybody at the Meadows in Rockwell loved him, too. He was the favorite. He’d take people to the diner and deliver the newspaper. His favorite thing was to ride his bicycle and listen to the radio. He liked disco and oldies but goodies. He was always happy.
Tammy, of Gold Hill, is the daughter of Linda Hedrick of Salisbury, Biggie’s sister’s daughter.
“He grew up with us,” she says. “He was more like a brother to me. We did a lot of things together like brother and sister.
“Everybody in Rockwell loved him. He’d go and sweep the East Rowan Cafe parking lot, and they were so good to him. They’d give him hamburgers and money, but what was really special to him was he’d say, ‘Charge it to my account,’ but they never did. They gave him free food. They were special to do that, and it made him really happy.”
His sister, Linda Cook Hedrick, lives in Salisbury, and Vickie Hipp, also a sister, lives in Rockwell. Bobby Carter, his brother, lives in Salisbury, and his father, Melvin Carter, who is 82, and still works at Parkdale Mills on Highway 29.
His mother, Mary Wilkerson Carter, died 35 years ago, and he would ride his bicycle to Concord to visit her grave frequently.
Biggie died July 26.
He was going to be 57 on Aug. 31.
“When we found things were getting worse,” Vickie says, “we had an early Thanksgiving dinner at my house, and we gave him a turkey leg, and he ate it, too,” she says. “I did it every year. Never missed.”
He didn’t get sick until the first week of July. During that time, the workers at the Meadows took care of him.
“They helped with everything,” Vickie says. “It was amazing the way they pitched in. I just love them to death.
“He died up in the early morning of July 26th.
“I had finally gone to sleep and an aide woke me up. The funeral was on the 29th.”
Vickie stayed with him the whole time.
His brother, James Carter of Kannapolis, died May 19, and the family was going to talk to Wayne and tell him about it, Tammy says, and he told her he had a dream the night before.
“What was it?” she asked.
“And he said he dreamed his brother died and came to him in his dream and told him he loved him.
“I said, ‘We can’t hide anything from you,’ and he said, ‘Me feel it in my heart.’ He knew before we knew.”
But then they’d always known that he was one very special brother. He was the one they called Biggie, and he was their Biggie, all of them knew that.
The post office employees in Rockwell got together to buy him a brand new bicycle for Christmas one year, and they were also giving him a dollar or two. He made friends easily, his sister says. He was polite and well-mannered.
Louise Ketner, administrator at the retirement center, was more like a mother to Biggie, his sisters say.
She called him Wayne, not Biggie, when he grew up.
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen a woman have more concern for their residents, and he considered that his second home,” says his sister Vickie.
She’d asked him to come stay with her, but he liked the Meadows, and going by there now, she says, is hard.
“I miss him but he’s home now with with mama and his brother, James. He always said, ‘Me ready to go home.’
“He’s already home and not worrying about me and my sister, Linda. He’s home with Mama, and he’ll be OK.
“But I miss him.
“And I think the whole town of Rockwell misses him.”
Contact Rose Post at 704-797-4251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.