Henry Carr, Olympic great, passes

Henry Carr_optAt Northwestern High School in the ’60s, Henry Carr was called the “Gray Ghost” because of his amazing speed in track. But later in life, after becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, he was most interested in reading the Bible and teaching the importance of service to others. Carr was 72 or 73 when he died of cancer on May 29 in Griffin, Georgia.

From the moment he stepped on the track at Northwestern High School (and as a matter of full disclosure, he was a freshmen and I had graduated four years before he arrived) he burned the cinders. His victories in the city and state sprint events were harbingers of greater success that would culminate in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo when he won gold medals in the 200 meter dash and on the 4×400 relay team.

“I didn’t think it was that fast,” Carr told reporters after winning the 200 meter race, setting an Olympic record at 20.3 seconds. “This was the easiest of my races.”

The races may have been easy for the gifted sprinter but mastering the reality races of life were a bit more challenging.

Born in Montgomery, Alabama on Nov. 27, 1941 or 1942, depending on the source, Carr was the ninth of 11 children and he was still very young when the family relocated to Detroit. At Northwestern, where Sam Bishop was the athletic director, he not only excelled in track and field, he was also an outstanding football and basketball player.

But it was at Arizona State that he began to acquire his national reputation, winning 220 yard dash in 1963 and tying for first place that year in the AAU event. The victory was his outright the next year, where by then he was a member of the Phoenix Olympic Club. After his success at the Olympics in Tokyo, Carr was practically unbeatable in the 200 meter, and he also competed will in the 100 and 400 meter races.

His speed and size made him a perfect fit for football and for three years, from 1965 to 1967 he was a defensive back for the New York Giants. Back in Detroit after leaving the Giants, he tried out for the Lions but injuries curtailed that possibility.

With his athletic ability in decline, Carr struggled to make a living, finding it difficult to obtain decent employment after his bar was closed. Gambling and drug addiction took their toll and he was now in another more important race.

“In time, I hit rock bottom morally as a man, coming into association with drug dealers and prostitutes,” he wrote in The Watchtower, a Jehovah’s Witness publication.

It was his commitment to the Witnesses that rescued him from further debilitation and hurt. Also, there was his faithful companion and wife, Glenda, his high school sweetheart.

“He was a beautiful runner, graceful,” she recalled of Carr’s running style. “He was effortless. There was no strain. A very unusual runner.”

Some of that style and grace can be seen on YouTube when he won the 200 meter race in Tokyo. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73JPTcAZN64. “Stars are soon replaced and generally forgotten,” he once noted. “Rather than competing with others to be best, helping and serving others is what brings true satisfaction.”

In 1997, Carr was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. And the track at Northwestern High School bears his name.

“Stars are soon replaced and generally forgotten,” he wrote in The Watchtower. “Rather than competing with others to be best, helping and serving others is what brings true satisfaction.”

In addition to his wife, Carr is survived by two daughters, Piper and Andrea Carr; a son, Peyton; four brothers, Emmitt, Linwood, Jasper and Ethan; three sisters, Flozell Coachman, Charity Harris and Escalita Jones; and five grandchildren.

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