Calvin ‘Cal’ Carter, former Atlanta aviation commissioner, dies at 92

Calvin Carter managed what is now Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for seven years during his longtime employment with Atlanta.
Calvin Carter managed what is now Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for seven years during his longtime employment with Atlanta.

Calvin “Cal” Carter, Atlanta’s aviation commissioner from 1983 until 1990, has died at the age of 92.

Carter worked for the city of Atlanta for 19 years under three mayors before retiring from the aviation commissioner position at the age of 65.

He was the first African-American commissioner of the Atlanta airport, and last year during a Black History Month celebration, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport presented the Cal Carter Trailblazer Award to his family.

He was born in New York City’s Harlem on Feb. 13, 1925, to Charles and Adele Carter, who were from Barbados.

Cal Carter spent a career in the military and earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, where he met his wife, and a master’s degree in political science from George Washington University.

After serving on active duty in the U.S. Air Force in Korea, Japan, England, Germany, Vietnam and Thailand, Lt. Col. Carter moved to his wife Cynthia’s hometown — Atlanta.

He embarked on a second career with the city of Atlanta when he got a job as assistant to the city's traffic engineer in 1971. He was an administrative assistant for Mayor Maynard H. Jackson during his first term in the 1970s.

Carter also held other roles including mayor’s chief of staff, city ombudsman, acting public safety commissioner, acting police chief and chief administrative officer, before becoming commissioner of aviation at Hartsfield.

“It’s a fascinating job because the airport is a city, ” Carter said in 1990. “We’ve got 37,000 employees, and nearly anything that can happen in a city can happen within the environs of the airport.”

His daughter Yvonne Carter Bridges, one of four children, said her father “loved the opportunity he had to expand the airport and watch over it.”

“But he also was very much about the people who worked with him, and he was proud that he was a good shepherd for the folks there,” she said.

It wasn't an easy job to manage, of course. Carter told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that during the Eastern Airlines strike of 1989, "I was sort of the man in the middle … I had as much responsibility to protect the rights of the strikers to strike and picket, as I also had a responsibility to ensure that what they did did not impede the activities of the airlines."

“I think we were able to strike a balance, ” he said. “On one hand, the airline was telling me I was giving the pickets too much freedom. Then, on the other hand, the union was beating up on me for the opposite reasons.”

Just before retiring, he ushered a proposal through City Council to restructure a controversial airport concessions contract.

After Carter retired, Atlanta city councilman Ira Jackson was named city aviation commissioner to replace him. Ira Jackson was convicted in 1994 of federal bribery charges in an Atlanta airport scandal and sent to prison.

Carter spent his retirement traveling, reading and “playing poker with his buddies,” Bridges said. He loved to go on cruises, she said.

Carter, who lived in southwest Atlanta, died Saturday, Oct. 14.

“Cal Carter was a trailblazer” for the airport, said Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council in a written statement. He “played a pivotal role” in the airport’s growth and development, Council said.

With Hartsfield-Jackson now handling more than 104 million passengers annually as the world's busiest airport, "we owe no small measure of thanks to Carter's leadership in helping set the stage for achieving that milestone," Council said.

Carter is survived by his wife of 67 years, Cynthia; children Yvonne Carter Bridges, Eric Owen Carter, Lisa Carter Morgan and Steven Edward Carter; sisters Grace Ellen Carter and Arna Jones; eight grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

Services will be held Saturday, Oct. 21 at 11 a.m. at First Congregational Church at 105 Courtland St. NE in Atlanta.

Donations in his memory can be sent to: The American Diabetes Association, Atlanta/North Georgia Regional Office, 233 Peachtree Street NE, Harris Tower, Suite 2225, Atlanta, Georgia 30303; or to the Alzheimer’s Association of Georgia, 41 Perimeter Center East, Suite 550, Atlanta, Georgia 30346.

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