Published in Summer 2012 | It was late afternoon on Feb. 2, 1951, when 9-year-old Robert Carter first stepped onto the grounds of Methodist Orphanage (MO). His sister had brought him to Raleigh and he had no idea—until she drove off without him —that MO would be his home for the next seven years. It took several teachers and students to restrain the distraught youngster as he realized he wasn’t going home. “I didn’t respond too well,” Carter says. “But now I understand that it was the best thing for me.”
Born in Leasburg, on the eastern edge of Caswell County, Carter was the youngest of three children in a family struck twice by tragedy in 1950. His father, a tenant farmer, died in April and his mother was killed in a Christmas Eve car crash that claimed the lives of his aunt, an uncle and a cousin and injured his brother and another uncle. Carter was able to walk away from the wreckage with hardly a scratch—but suddenly an orphan.
Through family connections to Union United Methodist Church (now part of the Hightower Charge), Carter was later invited to live at MO. He remembers that the shock and panic he felt in his first hours on campus were replaced that evening by the delight of attending a girls’ basketball game. “Those girls were so pretty and they wore shorts that were so short!” he says. “I decided this wasn’t going to be a bad place to live after all.”
Carter adjusted to his new home and bonded with several boys his age who remain friends nearly 60 years later. He enjoyed the well-structured routine at the orphanage and quickly learned the “dos and don’ts” of campus life. He remembers each Christmas receiving “any present I asked for” and earning money as a teenager with his newspaper route and yard-care job inherited from MO boys who were graduating and leaving town.
He also remembers being allowed to travel alone by bus to attend his sister’s out-of-town wedding. Returning that evening to Raleigh, he “pulled the rope” to signal his stop, getting out on Glenwood Avenue in front of the orphanage gates. But unbeknownst to him, waiting at the downtown bus station was MO superintendent Rev. Leon Larkin. When a frustrated Larkin called campus hours later to report a missing child, he learned that Carter had returned safely and was already in bed.
In the 10th grade, Carter left MO to live with his sister and her family in Burlington. He went from high school into the U.S. Air Force and, after his discharge, lived several years in Nebraska. Just prior to 1970, he moved to Virginia and tried his hand at different jobs before settling into a career with the U.S. Postal Service. He worked 31 years with the USPS, primarily in Petersburg, Va., where he lives today, and retired in 2005.
One of the best parts of retirement, Carter says, is having time to spend with his orphanage “brothers and sisters,” both informally and at MO/MHC Alumni Association events. He remembers fondly his time at MO—and the teachers and staff who, in a way, became his parents for seven years.
“They really were good to me.” — Peter MacBeth