BLOG: To mourn or not to mourn at a memorial… — Luther J. Carr Jr. remembered and celebrated

By Assunta Ng

Guests remember and celebrate Luther. Note the festive red tablecloth. (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

This is supposed to be a sad blog. But Luther J. Carr Jr., a renaissance man, and a Seattle community leader and entrepreneur, reinvented the purpose of a traditional memorial.

There was little mourning—mostly joy and hope. It was an unconventional service, but Luther’s life was not conventional either.

Don’t wear black—this was Luther’s last wish for his service at the AME Church.

I also learned a few more things aside from not wearing black for such occasions.

Cupcakes for dessert (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

The time listed for the service was noon to 3 p.m. Noon is my lunchtime. Should I eat first or not? Anyway, I ate some nuts before I headed to the church.

The front door of the church was locked. I circled around and found colorful balloons on the backdoor, showing friends the entrance to the fellowship hall.

Balloons, huh!?

I peeped inside the packed hall and saw lines of people waiting to eat. There was plenty of food. There were three kinds of sandwiches, including veggie and meat, platters of delicious vegetables and fruits, and potato chips, too.

The message was clear. Eat first, then… tributes. You can’t be attentive when you have a grouchy stomach. Never have I attended a memorial where you get food immediately.

I didn’t notice any flowers in the room. He must have thought flowers were more for the guests, an opportunity for them to show love and respect. To practical Carr, it was probably unnecessary.

There were red tablecloths in the room, a sign of celebration in Chinese culture. On the walls were balloons of red, blue, and yellow. Several of his close friends dressed in festive attire. I was one of the few who came in black – scarf and pants. I didn’t get the family’s e-mail. Carr must have laughed at us black-dressed folks in heaven!

Over 500 family members and friends gathered to chat, hug, and remember. It was a good time, remembering Luther.

He brought everyone together. That was his spirit. He enjoyed sharing wonderful moments with friends, and bringing folks together, creating communities. His community was diverse. It wasn’t just the black community, he had friends of all race attending his service.

One Caucasian friend even said it was the most fun service he had ever attended. “Fun!” Is a memorial supposed to be fun? Apparently, Carr proved it could be. His family granted his wishes in the service with much love.

Luther J. Carr III speaks about his father, pictured on the poster on the podium (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

The idea of having a funeral for loved ones to mourn was not his intent. Why focus on one moment of death and not a life of 77 years? He made this world a better place, and people celebrated his vision to inspire his friends to fight the barriers of their communities. The memorial focused on joy and hope, not sadness, anger, and hate.

Luther the man

Luther’s achievements ranged from social justice to business, sports, and community.  I met him when he joined the Seattle Rotary Club. At the time, I didn’t know he was Frances’ husband (former mayor Norm Rice’s executive assistant).

Pastor Cary Anderson said at the ceremony that Luther was not the kind of man who would say “No, I can’t.”

“Like President Obama, he gave us hope,” said brother Gary.

As the oldest of nine children, Carr was his siblings’ role model. They grew up in a Tacoma housing project with no role models. But then there were no black civil leaders in the 1950s and 1960s. Gary said his brother was his guiding light for his family.

The fact that Luther lived in Madrona, in a residence looking over the hill, gave his siblings hope. “It was like going to Disneyland,” Gary recalled of his fond visits to Seattle.

A graduate of the University of Washington, Luther was a multi-sport star. He participated in football, baseball, and track and field. According to a family member, he picked football based on a business decision. Track and field didn’t pay well, he told his family. Luther was known as “…Hit and Run Carr” when he played football. Did I care how many touchdowns he made? Not really. What impressed me most was his track record of community service–he served 35 years on Goodwill’s board–and that speaks volume about the man’s character—his commitment to help immigrants and the disadvantaged and giving back to society.

Later, he started a construction company, which helped build the Washington State Convention Center and the second Lake Washington floating bridge.

He died on July 1 at the age of 77. He was married to Frances for 56 years. He is survived by three children, Brenda, Dana, and Luther III, and his four granddaughters. (end)

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