OBITUARY: Dr. Jim Carter, Icon of the Space Coast Medical Community, Passed Away Sept. 14 at 89
By Dr. James Palermo // September 27, 2017
dedication to his patients and profession was legendary
SPACE COAST DAILY TV: For six decades Dr. Jim Carter, who passed away on September 14, lead the Space Coast Medical Community as an orthopedic surgeon, physician and hospital leader, unselfish patient advocate and humanitarian. He received the Central Florida Humanitarian Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 in recognition of his life’s work.
BREVARD COUNTY • MERRITT ISLAND, FLORIDA — James Earl Carter MD passed away peacefully in Melbourne, Florida on Thursday, September 14 at the age of 89.
Dr. Jim Carter was featured in a “Flashback” story in the June 2009 Space Coast Medicine magazine that began with a very simple statement from this icon of the Brevard County medical community, “I like to get up in the morning and go to work.”
That is exactly what he did for over 50 years as physician, orthopedic surgeon, hospital leader and unselfish patient advocate.
Life Devoted To Helping Others
If doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in life, then Jim Carter, who “retired” at the end of September 2012, could only be described as a cornucopia of service to his fellow man.
Whether it was helping lead the University of Wisconsin to basketball prominence under legendary coach Bud Foster or treating crippled children as one of the first orthopedic surgeons to practice in Brevard County, or raising a family of six children, Dr. Carter devoted his life to helping others overcome adversity, and was recognized for his life’s work when he received the Central Florida Humanitarian Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
Roots In the Upper Midwest
Born to Dr. Earl and Irene Carter on July 29, 1928 in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, Dr. Carter grew to a height of 6-foot-5 and earned a basketball scholarship to play for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Blessed with athletic ability, he spent four versatile years from 1946 to 1949 for Wisconsin playing first as a guard, then a forward, before two final seasons as a center under Foster’s tutelage.
He then went on to earn his undergraduate degree while helping the Badgers claim the 1947 Big Ten title and advance to the NCAA quarterfinals that season.
With his playing days over, Dr. Carter poured himself into his studies, graduating in 1955 from Marquette University Medical School in Milwaukee.
He went on to serve four years as an Air Force surgeon, specializing in orthopedics and rheumatology at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Sunshine State Climate Draws Young Doctor To CCH
Returning to Marquette as a clinical orthopedic instructor after his discharge, Dr. Carter woke up one morning in late May to record-breaking cold.
“Here it was May 31 and it was 31 degrees,” he told me in an interview for Space Coast Daily in 2012.
“I guess after living in the South while in the service I was no longer used to the cold, so I simply decided then and there to move someplace warmer. I just couldn’t take the cold weather anymore and Florida looked pretty good to me.”
Taking advantage of the opportunity to work with established orthopedic surgeon Dr. Glen Musselman at the recently opened Cape Canaveral Hospital, Dr. Carter and his family moved to Brevard County in 1965. At that time be became one of only three orthopedic surgeons in the county and worked at both Cape Canaveral Hospital and Wuesthoff.
Presiding over a growing household that included wife Joan and eventually a total of six children, just getting on staff at Cape Canaveral Hospital required some doing.
“In those days they wanted staff doctors to live in the area and they had a residency requirement,” Dr. Carter said.
“I spent time as a member of the courtesy staff there initially because we couldn’t find a house to rent that was large enough for all of us in Cocoa Beach.” When the residency rule was later dropped, Dr. Carter became a full-fledged “active” member of the Cape Canaveral Hospital staff.
Altruism Played An Important Role In Medical Practice
It was a much simpler time for medicine in the mid-1960s without today’s emphasis on profit margins and expensive equipment and technology.
Some doctors still made house calls and almost all physicians of that era knew their patients and their families on a first-name basis.
“In those days I treated everyone over the age of 65 for nothing,” Dr. Carter said. “There wasn’t Medicare then and people truly cared about seeing that the elderly received the best treatment possible.”
As one of Brevard’s local orthopedic surgeons, Dr. Carter said he would make trips monthly to hospitals in Titusville, Rockledge and Melbourne to provide care for crippled kids who needed help.
“I treated children who had cerebral palsy, club feet, scoliosis and muscular dystrophy,” he said. “We never turned away anyone. When the families didn’t have the money to pay, I took care of them and forgot about the cost. It’s just what you did back then if you were a doctor.”
Hospital Leader and Physician Mentor
As Dr. Carter became recognized as a preeminent clinician, he also rose to prominence as a physician leader. When I arrived in Brevard County as a young general surgeon in 1984, Jim Carter was well established as an example of a clinician to emulate.
From 1972 to 1977, he was chief of staff at Cape Canaveral Hospital (CCH) and inspired a generation of doctors to move the facility forward as the area grew and the demand for quality medical care increased.
He was always the go-to guy for any issues that arose related to hospital operations and quality clinical care.
He was the mentor for my generation of physicians at CCH, and instilled in us the over-riding principle that meeting the needs of our patients must always be our first priority.
Dr. Carter’s multidimensional service included 25 years on the Board of Directors of CCH and five years on the Health First Board.
He was an outstanding medical leader who always understood the importance of physicians, the Board of Directors and hospital management working together in concert for the benefit of the community and the hospital.
Legendary Work Ethic
Dr. Carter’s dedication to his patients and his profession is legendary. Right up until the time he “retired” he continued to volunteer his time, seeing children with orthopedic and podiatry needs.
Even after he retired from private practice in 2012, he continued to volunteer his time at the Brevard County Health Department.
He particularly enjoyed helping elderly patients, a population segment that he believed were underserved by society.
“My clientele was pretty darn old,” he said, noting that he treated three generations of many families. Many of the older patients needed his and his staff’s help arranging for home healthcare, meal delivery and other services.
“You almost have to do it for them, but I never minded because it was all part of meeting their needs the best we could,” Dr. Carter said.
Revered Leader Of Brevard County Medical Community
As a member of the Brevard County Medical Society he served as president of that organization from 1975 to 1976, and helped shape the ethics and standards that have been the heart and soul of patient care on the Space Coast ever since.
As we look back over Jim Carter’s five decades of service and a lifetime of achievement in and influence over healthcare on the Space Coast, it is very clear that his legacy is defined by his love for his work and the people whom he touched.
Family and Funeral Arrangements
Dr. Carter is survived by his wife of 62 years Joan, his brother Daniel (Jane) and is preceded in death by his brother William (Amber) and beloved granddaughter Sara Barton. He is also survived by his six children Virginia Barton, Jackie Smith (Steve), James (Patty), Jody, John, and Joseph (Alexandra) and his beloved grandchildren Jessica, Emma, and Chloe.
Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on September 27 at Beckman-Williamson Funeral Home, located at 5400 Village Drive in Viera, with a memorial service on September 28 at 1 pm at Suntree United Methodist Church, located at 7400 N. Wickham Road, in Melbourne.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. You may sign Dr. Carter’s guestbook at Beckman-Williamson Funeral Home.