If you happened to be walking through the Antlers lobby on a January afternoon sometime in 2002, or 2003, or 2004, or …
You might have been lucky enough to see an elderly gentleman sitting on the couch, listening to a tape recorder making an awful whistling sound. Although he may have appeared to be sleeping (who’s to say?) he was also listening to books on tape, having skied all morning on those 88 year young legs. Despite the fact that he could hardly see anymore (hence the audio books) he still had a twinkle in his eye that reflected a life worth living … to the max. You may have also seen him whooping up on me with a monster cribbage board and a deck of cards big enough that you or I could read them across the room. 29, 2 … 29, 4 and a pair makes 6.
Carter Williams started staying at the Antlers back in the 80’s I think. I remember his Canadian Mountain Holidays one piece. He was no spring chicken, but I suspect he could ski your legs off even then. In the Antlers lore of octogenarian, character guests … Vlasta, Brad & Jane, Bill & Jane (different Jane), Jim Porter, even my dad David … Carter will always hold a very special place in our hearts.
Recently there was an obituary that went viral about an everyman from Mississippi. With all due respect to his daughter who authored that one (it was fabulous), I submit that Carter’s is better. Maybe it’s just because I loved him …
Carter Williams passed away on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 in Wesley Chapel, Florida at the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Marnie and Kip Bennett, following a sudden, precipitous decline in health in his wonderfully long life. His other three children, a granddaughter and a devoted caregiver were also by his side. Carter was preceded in death by his parents Johnny and Ruth Williams, his beloved wife Judy Birch Williams, and his three younger sisters, Wanda Barthelow, Doris “Ducky” Burke and Nan Slusher. Carter is survived by son Mark Williams of Seeley Lake, Montana and Mark’s daughters Katie and Madeline and their mother Ginger; daughter Marnie Williams Bennett and Kip Bennett of Wesley Chapel, Florida and their daughter Sydney Price and son Joshua Bennett; son Fred Williams and Mollie McGill of Boulder, Colorado and Fred’s sons Carter Williams, Issac Williams, Reece Yapuncich and his wife Jenel, and Mollie’s sons Jack and Alex Guerin; and daughter Beth Williams and Doug Pewitt also of Seeley Lake.
Carter Williams played his final hand in the cribbage game of life, pegging out at age 95. He passed as he lived, persevering to the end and leaving the world in his wake. He will be missed by the myriad of people whose lives he touched with his keen intellect and sharp wit. Born of humble beginnings on a ranch near Whitehall, Montana to Johnny and Ruth Williams, he spent his early years in a one-room mining shack with dirt floors in Elkhorn, Montana. Dad later moved to Boulder when his father became deputy sheriff of Jefferson County. Graduating from Jefferson County High School, he attended the University of Montana, graduating with a degree in economics and a subsequent law degree.
Refusing to allow school and later work to interfere with enjoying life became a recurring theme for Dad. He and his good friend Bob Fletcher lit out for Europe in 1937 billing themselves as Montana cowboys. They spent ten months bicycling through pre World War II Europe where they encountered people from all walks of life including Mussolini’s son-in-law, members of Hitler’s Youth Movement and the ruler of Ireland. One of the stories Dad told often was of sitting around a bonfire with two Scottish boys, Bertie Brash and John, and two German boys, Otto and Ivan, who were members of Hitler’s Youth Movement. Otto posed the question, “What will you do when war comes?” a very foreign thought to Americans in 1937. Carter took that question to heart and wrote an original oration, winning first place in both the University of Montana and later the Montana State Oratorical Competition.
Following his return from Europe aboard an Italian tramp steamer where he developed an aversion to anything resembling pasta, he finished his law degree, graduating at the top of his class. After Pearl Harbor, he enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training program, becoming a flight instructor prior to joining the Air Transport Command of the Army Air Corp. Having dodged an assignment flying ”the Hump,” when one of his crew was diagnosed with trench foot and the crew was disbanded, Dad was reassigned and spent the latter war years stationed in Tripoli, Libya in North Africa. Here he spent his time flying C46s east and west along the Mediterranean, playing tennis, winning poker games, riding motorcycles and generally making the world safe from serious military protocol.
Dad and his friend Bjarne Johnson joined their law practice with the established firm of I.W. Church and George Harris, creating the firm of Church, Harris, Johnson and Williams in 1949. He met his wife of 62 years, Judy Birch during his early years working as an attorney in the Ford Building. They married in March of 1949. They began their life together doing three of his favorite things; skiing in Sun Valley, dancing with his beloved Judy, and playing poker. Later they would travel together to the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway, the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, sail through the Caribbean and visit Mexico with friends. Kids showed up, beginning with Mark in 1951, Marnie in 1953 and Fred and Beth, the twins in 1958. His time in Great Falls was divided between family, the law firm, his various real estate adventures and his many civic duties. In addition to forming the United Way of Cascade County, he was president of the Cascade County Chapter of the American Red Cross, a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers farm club Board of Directors, President of the Montana Tennis Association and a founding member of the Benefis Hospital Foundation. He was also, and perhaps most importantly a founding member of the Great Falls Ski Bums, a group dedicated to fostering the irresponsible pursuit of fun on long upturned sticks on a steep, slippery surface.
Dad often credited his success, professionally and personally, to his ability to pick good partners: Bill Croft of Croft Petroleum; his boyhood friend Glenn Kyler and the Kyler Ranch; his law partners, starting with Bjarne Johnson; his tennis partners; his indispensable assistant of 34 years, Janet Connolly; and the greatest partner of all, his devoted wife Judy. Other business success included Big Sky Lake Properties near Seeley Lake and Sourdough Creek Properties in Bozeman.
Dad enjoyed the challenges of his business endeavors, which helped keep his fertile mind engaged. Although none of his children followed his path into the world of law or ranching, they did school him in skiing, windsurfing and hunting. In a moment of introspection, he said all things being equal he would have rather been a ski instructor. He did give it his best shot, taking to the slopes every chance he got until his 90th year. Ever generous he included the extended family, in-laws, out-laws, kids, grandkids and peripheral friends on his ski vacations. He effectively imparted the ski gene to his kids and grandkids and their lives are richer because of it.
As much as Dad was devoted to enjoying his recreational pursuits, he was also devoted to family, extended family and clearly understood the importance of giving back and leaving a positive legacy. The Williams—Ario Emergency Room in Great Falls and the Glenn Kyler Tennis Courts in Boulder, Montana are testaments to Dad’s generosity.
Vacations and family gatherings – at the cabin on Seeley Lake, skiing in Vail, Purgatory and Sun Valley, windsurfing on the North Shore of Maui, scuba diving in Martinique and Kauai, or helicopter skiing in Canada – often centered around the cribbage board where he schooled all comers in the finer points of the game. Although at times these gatherings seemed more like “cribbage camp” than family fun, they demonstrated Dad’s passion for engaging with his family.
Following the loss of his beloved Judy in November of 2011, Dad went to visit Marnie and Kip in Wesley Chapel, Florida last April. The warmth of Marnie and Kip’s welcome and the Florida sunshine were enough and he, in true Carter fashion, invited himself to stay. With the exception of a five-week visit to Montana and the cabin on Seeley Lake last summer, Dad spent his final months with Marnie and Kip.
Dad exited the world in the same way he inhabited it, fiercely determined to do and be the best in all aspects of his life that he could control. In his later years with deafness and blindness overtaking him and shrinking his environment to a cocoon of family and an inner circle of caregivers and friends, he looked upon life with happy bemusement, still claiming to be the luckiest guy on the planet. He truly woke each morning with a song in his heart. He provided a role model for all. Humble yet wise, smart and yet unassuming he always expected the best of himself and his kids. He will be remembered as the man who taught us to snow ski, water ski, windsurf, hunt and treat people as equals regardless of their social standing. Every cribbage game well played, ski run enjoyed, joke well told and poem recited by memory provide a testament to this remarkable man.
Carter Williams has caught the first gondola to the Pearly Gates and in Ski Bum parlance he is “skiing elsewhere.” Après ski, if you listen you might hear “one more sip, won’t sink the ship. Hallelue!”
Please join the family in a celebration of Carter’s life on April 19th, 2013 in the Grill Room at the Meadowlark Country Club from 4:00 to 8:00 pm.