Carter of Summersett Funeral Home dies

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 3, 2011

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — Maybe it was the nature of his business, but Don Carter never allowed himself to be the center of attention.
Yet he ran the show.
He was the one making families feel special, guiding them through the toughest times of their lives, showing compassion and taking care of the details.
“He was a walking history about Salisbury, and he knew a lot about the people he was serving,” youngest son Summie Carter said Monday.
And that gift always helped people feel at ease.
Don Carter, longtime president of Summersett Funeral Home, died at his residence late Monday morning after an extended illness. He was 88.
Carter had the inner strength of a World War II Army paratrooper, which he was, and the savvy of a businessman, who guided the company’s growth and laid a foundation for succeeding generations of his family to build on.
“I learned a lot through osmosis, being with him and being around him as he was dealing with families and their needs and care,” Summie Carter said.
“He’s such a people person. He had no hobbies — the funeral home and people were his loves and hobbies.”
Carter was a gentleman from the old school. He always wore a shirt and tie, usually a suit, even if he were going to physical therapy.
“He was always ready for work and ready to go to work,” Summie Carter said.
Don Carter also was a meticulous bookkeeper who, before the computer age and turning the financials over to Summie, kept a long ledger by hand in beautiful penmanship.
Summie Carter and grandchildren Kristen Carter Barber and Staton Summersett Carter have followed in his footsteps at the funeral home, the roots of which go back to 1907.
It has been in its present location at 1315 W. Innes St. since 1955.
Additions to these headquarters came in 1965, 1976 and 1978; the building of a new chapel in 1990; a new garage and warehouse in 1998; and a crematory in 1999.
Carter was a leader in his profession, through memberships in district, state and national funeral director associations. In the community, he collected decades of perfect attendance with the Salisbury Rotary Club, but was often putting together information on other longtime members, so they could be honored, not him.
He also was dedicated to First United Methodist Church, though much of his weeks were spent in churches and cemeteries across the city and county.
Carter and his late wife, Margaret, endowed a Catawba College scholarship fund to provide financial assistance to Rowan County students who attended the school as majors in teacher education.
Margaret Carter, who had been a guidance counselor at Salisbury High, died in June 2007. The couple had been married 63 years.
Don Carter also was a former member and past chairman of the Salisbury Planning Board, the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the Jaycees, American Red Cross and the Community Development Council for Western North Carolina.
As a business, Summersett Funeral Home under Carter’s leadership was always involved in the community through monetary support, its employees’ volunteerism and its making funeral tents available for organizations — from Habitat for Humanity to Special Olympics.
The funeral home also has worked through the years with the VA Medical Center and Department of Social Services in assisting with the burial of indigent patients or citizens.
Summersett Funeral Home began as a furniture company in 1904, when furniture stores often had the double duty of selling caskets, embalming and coordinating funerals.
William B. Summersett started that furniture store at 110 W. Innes St. Within three years, the funeral business became a separate entity under the direction of William Summersett’s son, Thomas Walter Summersett.
Thomas Walter Summersett Jr. and his brother-in-law, John Rusher, joined the business in 1926 and were longtime officers in the company who with T.W. Summersett Sr. brought Carter into the fold.
Margaret Carter was a daughter of T.W. Summersett Sr.
Though Carter was born in Salisbury — his father was a manager of the Southern Bell office, then owner of Carter Electric — his family moved to Goldsboro when he was young. He attended Goldsboro schools and later graduated from New Bern High School.
Carter came back to Salisbury as an apprentice embalmer for Summersett in 1941.
His war years followed. As a member of the 11th Army Airborne Division, Carter jumped out of planes 16 times in the Asian theater during World War II. He earned the American Theater Service, Asiatic Service, Good Conduct, World War II Victory medals and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon.
Carter graduated in 1947 from an embalming school in Cincinnati. At one point, he left Summersett for 10 years, working for Townsend Funeral Home in Murphy, then becoming co-owner of Murray-Carter Funeral Home in Greensboro.
He came back to Salisbury and Summersett Funeral Home in 1967 and became president 20 years later, following the deaths of T.W. Summersett Jr. and Rusher.
Today, Summersett has 16 full- and part-time employees.
Don Carter’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church. The Thursday night visitation will be, of course, at Summersett Funeral Home.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.