Carey Carter passed away on Jan. 18. It's unclear exactly how old he was. Even he didn't know.
Carter, who died from complications after a recent stroke, was born in 1939 and grew up in foster care. He was never sure of his beginnings but he was always sure of his purpose. The co-founder of the Carter Barnes hair salon believed in making every client feel he or she was his top priority, and dedicated untold hours to charity.
"My friend Carey was relentless when he would call about an idea for raising money and it made it fun to work with him on these endeavors," Legendary Events founder Tony Conway said.
Carter chaired countless galas over the years, raising millions of dollars for causes such as Murphy-Harpst Children's Centers, the Chelko Foundation, AID Atlanta, Jaden’s Ladder, UNICEF, Susan G. Komen Greater Atlanta, Open Hand and Jeffrey Fashion Cares.
"Carey had a passion for helping others and was instrumental in raising the brand of UNICEF in Atlanta," said Barron Segar, chief development officer and executive vice president of UNICEF USA. "He did not need the spotlight and instead chose to make sure everyone he knew was making a difference in the lives of others."
In keeping with Carter's spirit, friends plan a fashion show celebration of his life this spring. We'll share details as they become available.
"Life for all of us was certainly enhanced by knowing Carey," said events venue consultant Martha Jo Katz, who got to know him during her modeling days. "His talent set a precedent in Atlanta and those of us who had the pleasure of his talent and wit were so fortunate to experience that which is G-d given. He will be missed by many and leaves a void that can only be filled by keeping all the good memories in our hearts forever."
Carter began his career at Rich’s Hair Salons and quickly ascended the ranks to become style director of all its salons. He, Mitchell Barnes and Perri Higbie opened Carter Barnes in 1987 at Phipps Plaza. They opened a second Buckhead location in 1996. His talent caught the attention of L’Oreal Paris, forming a partnership that continues today.
(See Debbie Bodie's poem in appreciation and remembrance below).
The Carter Barnes team has traveled the world representing L’Oreal in fashion shows and has worked with fashion houses around the world including Armani, Valentino, Oscar de la Renta and Chanel.
"We went to Elton John's Oscar party in 2003 where he complimented Catherine Zeta-Jones on her hair and asked if he could hold her Oscar," Atlanta broadcaster Vikki Locke recalled from the year Zeta-Jones won best supporting actress honors for "Chicago." "She handed it to him and posed for a picture. He was the life of the party."
Despite his roster of prominent friends, Carter remained dedicated to helping those in need. In 2009, with Atlanta reeling from the real estate bubble's burst, Carter Barnes offered free haircuts, styling and job counseling to people who were out of work and struggling to pay bills.
"It will be truly rewarding for us," he said at the time.
The one topic he tended to avoid was himself. Unsure of his precise birth date, he would demur any time friends suggested throwing a birthday party for him. He preferred celebrating others, and was especially dedicated to Murphy-Harpst, a residential treatment center for abused and neglected children.
One of his greatest legacies is the Carey Carter Reading Room at Murphy-Harpst. Conway assisted with the project and recalled how meaningful it was to his friend, who seldom discussed his own troubled childhood.
"Carey loved Murphy-Harpst and called one day and said, 'Conway, I need you to help me with books for a library,'" Conway recalled. "Home Depot helped and Carey was just overjoyed. We then worked out a way to pay for a 'librarian' for a while to help organize the books."
The organization remains ever grateful to Carter.
“Everyone had given up on these kids, which is how they ended up at Murphy-Harpst. Everyone, but Carey,” said Emily Saltino, Murphy-Harpst's past vice president. "He knew that with therapy and the care we could give them, we could turn them around. And we did. Thanks to him.”
Thanks to Liz Lapidus for providing information for this article.
The Best Accessory
(A Reflection on Carey Carter) by Debbie Boddie
Upon our heads he’d ply his skills
Of artistry and grace.
And we would lift our heads a’high
And strut the stage apace.
The strands he’d twist, and curl, and bind
and spray to keep in place….
They fell aligned with perfect form
To shape and frame our face.
We’d glow alight; our locks of gloss
And proudly would we wear
The best accessory of all
Of course was our frocked hair!
The Carter “Cartier” of Hair!
The greatest name of coiffed supreme
His status and His place.
Thus Carey, as the wardrobes fail
And change from suede to lace.
The best accessory of all
Is that which frames the face.
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