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Remembering "Doc" Carr

It was standing room only in the Emmitsburg Presbyterian Church on June 2 as friends and family gathered to remember William "Doc" Carr who passed away on May 22. They endured the heat of the overcrowded room to share their stories and memories of a former mayor, talented veterinarian and great friend.

When Bill Meredith first moved to Emmitsburg in 1957, one of the first people he came to know was Doc Carr. They met at the Emmitsburg Presbyterian Church and were casual acquaintances for years until that acquaintanceship deepened to friendship in the late 1960's.

"He was a natural leader, and I was more of a sounding board for ideas, but I believe we both thought alike and had similar basic values," Meredith said.

That leadership ability led Carr to become mayor of Emmitsburg in 1992 and hold that position for 10 years until he decided not to seek re-election. As mayor, Carr helped clear the way for some of Emmitsburg's annexations: Pembrook, Brookfield, North and South Gate, and Silo Hill.

"The town of Emmitsburg would not be where it is today without Bill Carr," said former town councilman Patrick Boyle.

Besides the annexations, Boyle said that Carr helped the town get a new water plant and repair its old and leaking sewer lines.

Carr also fought hard to ensure that the town kept its remaining schools, particular after the controversial loss of Emmitsburg High School. The town had also lost its Catholic high schools and St. Joseph College. Boyle said that Carr worked to make sure that Emmitsburg's last public school, Emmitsburg Elementary, remained open.

Boyle has another fond memory of Carr coming into the Boyle family store and buy a candy bar as he walked through town. It's not a story, just a fond memory of Carr relaxed and at ease living the small-town life he enjoyed.

Town Manager Dave Haller said that Emmitsburg's finances were in a "mess" when Carr came into office. The town couldn't even make payroll at one point so finding a way out of debt became a priority of Carr's first term as mayor.

"We didn't have any money," Haller said. "Doc got us a credit line of $40,000 and got things moving on the water plant."

Haller said much of Carr's success as mayor was probably because he was a better politician than manager and could get things done.

"He ran the town meetings more as a czar than mayor," Haller said. "He would work the commissioners individually so he would know what the vote would be or it wouldn't be on the agenda. And he always did what he thought was best for the town."

However, that passion for the town caused Carr to speak his mind on subjects that came before the town commissioners.

"Doc was a good guy," Haller said. "Either he liked you or he didn't and he was a wrong guy to have down on you."

He said it could be a problem occasionally with people making presentations or petitions to the town. Haller said he had to keep reminding Carr that he needed to treat everyone the same way so that the town would have a defensible position if a town decision was challenged.

Clark Mitchell described it as, "Whether he was getting ready to smile or pontificate, the expression was the same and you never knew which one was coming."

While Carr was successful as mayor, his chosen profession was the town's veterinarian. He founded the Emmitsburg Veterinary Hospital in 1955. He was known for his quick response to calls racing through town and flying up farm driveways with a dust cloud billowing up around his car and rock flying backwards. His car would skid to a stop and Carr would jump out ready to work.

"He would leave early and by nine o'clock, he would probably have been to three or four farms and had breakfast at all of them," Meredith said.

Carr's oldest friend was Vernon Keilholtz of Emmitsburg. Keilholtz tells a story of Carr's talent as a veterinarian. The Keilholtzes had a collie that didn't come home one night. When they found the dog the next day, it had been shot in a hind leg which seemed to barely be attached. Keilholtz thought the leg might have to be amputated, but Carr took the dog and started working on it and managed to save the leg, though the shattered joint couldn't be replaced.

"Eventually that dog was running around as if nothing had ever happened to his leg, even though it couldn't bend that ruined joint," Keilholtz said.

Meredith said that Carr had lots of funny and weird stories about his veterinarian adventures. "We knew all of the weird cases where he delivered twin calves in the midst of a freak hurricane when it was snowing six feet deep and the temperature was 30 below zero.... Over the years we probably heard all of them more than once, but they were still funny," Meredith said.

Keilholtz and his wife met the Carrs only a few days after the Carrs moved to town in 1955. They played cards regularly until a year ago. Their families purchased land together on the Potomac and built a vacation cabin there. They spent many pleasant weekends at the cabin over the years. They would also take other vacations together.

Another good friend of the Carrs was Rev. Ben Jones and his wife. Jones always marveled at how easily Carr would make friends wherever they vacationed.

"He would talk to everyone and they had his full attention," Jones said.

Everyone felt that he was their best friend. It was a talent of Carr's that came from him truly caring to know the people he met.

"He was the one I could go to when I needed to talk in confidence about a problem, or simply to unwind after a stressful time," Meredith said. "He showed up, unasked, to sit with me during my wife's surgery, as, I'm sure, he did for many other people. His death leaves a big hole in my life; it will heal in time, but will never be replaced."

Jones said that on one trip the Joneses and Carrs drove 500 miles and took a ferry another 26 miles just to eat clam chowder on Nantucket Island. Jones said they were eating their chowder when Carr looked up and said, "It's good."

When Jones asked, "The chowder," Carr shook his head and said, "No, the chowder's OK. Being here's good."

For Carr it was all about the journey and being with people rather than the destination.

Beyond his work, Carr loved his family. During the memorial service, his granddaughters recalled the doll houses that Carr had made for them with great love.

Meredith told a story of how Carr acted the day his first granddaughter was born. It was in 1977 and the Carrs and Merediths were having a late dinner at a local bar. As they waited for a table, Carr got a little tipsy at the bar. Then the call came in about the birth of his granddaughter and Carr was so excited that he made an announcement to the entire restaurant. However, his earlier drinks made him a bit confused.

"He announced the birth of his grandchild and said, it was named something with a J or K and was six inches long and weighed 21 pounds," Meredith said.

Golf was a passion of Carr's. He, Meredith, Wayne McCleaf and Paul Harner formed a golf foursome after Carr retired. They bet a quarter on each hole and since all four of them were close in ability, no one dominated their games.

"Sometimes on a hard course none of us would break 100, and the rare occasions when someone broke 90 were causes for celebration," Meredith said. "Bill was the most competitive, and also the most macho; he refused to play from the senior tees for several years, and relented only after all of us were past 70."

Carr played golf up until last year when he was 83 years old. "But he never gave up hoping for one more round," Meredith said.

During the weekly golf outings, Carr would make a lunch of hard-boiled eggs. One week, he didn't eat his eggs and left them out until the following week. When the rest of the golf foursome picked Carr up, they smelled something strange when he got in the van.

"The rest of us all knew that smell hadn’t been there before Bill got in," Meredith said. They tried to ignore it. For his part, Carr thought someone else was causing the smell and he chose not to say anything. They all rode to the golf course pretending nothing was wrong, all the while enduring the horrible smell of spoiled eggs.

Another hobby that Carr enjoyed seemed out of line with his sociable nature was his love of woodworking.

"His interests were in projects like making grandfather clocks and Windsor chairs, but he also could design his own patterns," Meredith said. "He was a very good craftsman."

He would create his works in his workshop alone and away from other people for the most part, though occasionally one of his children or grandchildren would come into the shop to watch him work.

As Carr's health failed, he found himself stuck in a hospital. Keilholtz saw Carr two days before he died. The once-vibrant man could speak anymore.

Carr once told his friend, "I don’t want to have to live a life in a nursing home, that’s not really living."

Keilholtz spent the time talking with his friend and watched him respond to the one-sided conversation. At the end of the visit, Keilholtz leaned over and kissed his best friend goodbye and two days later, the rest of the town said goodbye as well.

My parents moved us to Emmitsburg 55 years ago, when I was only three years old, when I was only three years old, in order for my father to take a position as a teacher at Mount St. Mary's College. Over the years, our family acquired the usual assortment of pets, along with an occasional exotic variety, such as a baby alligator that refuse to eat. Invariably, they required a visit to the only vet in town.

I remember vividly meeting “Doc” Carr on one of those occasions when I was still quite young. He was the biggest, burliest, gruffest, meanest looking man that I ever laid eyes on, up to that point. To see him up close and have him address me personally in that deep gravelly voice of his, with those big, dark, unblinking eyes piercing directly into my naked soul, scare the living bejesus out of me. After several of these encounters after meeting his lovely wife and family I gradually overcame my deep fear and was able to discern the softer, more gentle side of the man. Eventually I grew to envy his easy way with animals and people alike.

A few years later as I was just starting out in business, he hired my brothers and I to replace the roof shingles on that huge mansion on the hill at the edge of town where he resided at the time. Looking back on it I can say without reservation, that Bill and Chata took an incredible gamble on us, even with a bargain price we probably gave them in our own ignorance.

It was a monumental undertaking for us and a prestigious opportunity, at the time. As result of the exposure it helped launched our respective careers in the construction trades. We received numerous invitations to bid on other projects in around the town as a result of his recommendations.

Because other their unfounded faith in our fledging abilities and their high expectations of us, we rose to the challenge and gave it our best. Apparently, the end product was satisfactory enough, because we never got a ‘call back’ for repairs to it. I’m sure now, that wasn’t entirely about the price for them. They were always looking to promote the local talent and encourage the youth of the area.

I would run into “Doc” over the years, at various places. He always had a funny joke and a ready laugh. He could put anybody at ease and made sure everyone was included and felt welcomed. It came as no surprise to me when he was elected Mayor of Emmitsburg and proved to be an effective one for as long as he did.

He was unselfishly dedicated to improving his community and bettering the lives of all those in it. Even with all his various accomplishments and appointments to positions of authority, he managed to retain the same unpretentious, personable and down-to-earth demeanor that I come to so admire. He epitomized, for me, the essence of masculinity and dignity but I can only aspire to a personified the worn-out cliché, “ you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

I was deeply moved when I learned of his passing. He’ll be sorely missed and remembered quite fondly by me for the rest of my life who is truly, one of a kind.

David A. Thomas

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If so, send their story to us at: history@emmitsburg.net