Donald V. Watkins
Brenda Lee Thompson Carter: One of God’s Greatest Gifts to Humanity
By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on June 27, 2016, Updated on June 27, 2019
Three years ago today, I drove to Montgomery, Alabama to attend the funeral of Brenda Lee Thompson Carter. God’s angels came to Montgomery on June 16, 2016 to escort Brenda to her Heavenly home. She was 69-years old and died after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.
I first met Brenda in 1974, and said my final goodbye to her three years ago this month. Brenda’s home-going celebration was one of the most difficult moments of my life.
This remarkable woman was my former law partner Billy Carter’s loving wife of 42 years. She was also the mother of two wonderful, highly intelligent and well-mannered children, Bryan and Brooke Carter.
Brenda was my former wife DeAndra’s best friend. She was also the unsung hero who quietly lifted up countless individuals and institutions in America during their most challenging times.
In short, Brenda was one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. She was the epitome of class, character, love and strength.
Every family member and friend who gathered in the packed Montgomery church to say goodbye to Brenda had been impacted in a favorable way by his/her interaction with Brenda. Her departure to Heaven has left a huge void in our lives and the world as a whole.
Brenda and DeAndra were the solid rocks that formed the foundation for the small law practice Billy and I started in 1979. Both of us had previously worked with legendary civil rights attorney Fred Gray from 1974 to 1978. With little money and only the support of our spouses and families, Billy and I ventured out on our own on January 1, 1979. Brenda and DeAndra banked every penny they had saved on their collective belief that Billy and I could develop and run a successful law practice.
DeAndra and I had four small kids – Donald, Jr., Light, Drew, and Dustin -- when we started our law practice in Montgomery. Brenda and Billy would not have Bryan and Brooke until several years later. As such, they always had more money than DeAndra and me and shared what they had with us. Brenda regularly cooked French fries and breaded fried shrimp for the four of us at their home on Friday nights where we gathered to watch TV and reminisce about the week. Billy and Brenda were always trying to ease the financial crunch on DeAndra, my four sons, and me.
Brenda was born to the late John Halsey Thompson and Eugene Walden Thompson on June 27, 1947 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Her parents were truly great people. They were working-class Americans who loved and supported their children.
Brenda was raised with her younger brother, John Wendell Thompson, in West Palm Beach where she attended John F. Kennedy High School and graduated as valedictorian of her class in 1965. After graduating from high school, Brenda relocated to Washington, D.C. to attend Howard University. She graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology in 1969.
While studying at Howard, Brenda met Billy Carter and married him on June 15, 1974, following a six-year courtship.
Brenda and Billy moved to Montgomery in November of 1974 and Brenda began her professional career as a clinical technician with two public health agencies. In 1978, Brenda earned her Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Auburn University at Montgomery and began a long and distinguished career at the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (“ACHE”) where she served as ACHE’s Director of Academic Programs until her retirement in 2006.
Brenda’s work at ACHE directly contributed to the meteoric rise of academic programs at historically black Alabama State University and Alabama A&M University (among other colleges and universities in Alabama). Her courageous and pioneering work at ACHE paved the way for Alabama State University to break the last color barrier in higher education by attaining the Level-Six accreditation status that had been held exclusively in the state by the University of Alabama and Auburn University.
Billy, Brenda, John and their parents were cornerstones in the life of our family. They were good and decent people. Their integrity was beyond reproach. If there are finer people in the world, I have not met them.
I salute Billy, Bryan, Brooke and John for personally taking care of Brenda during her long battle with Alzheimer's disease. Brenda’s journey along the road to Heaven was filled with the unconditional love that only Billy, Bryan, Brooke and John could have given her. The outpouring of love she received from them during this difficult period in her life was as great as the geyser of love Brenda showered on them and all of us.
One measure of the magnitude of Brenda’s impact on society is embodied in the incredible story of John’s historic rise in corporate America. Brenda was John’s big sister, best friend, mentor, childhood protector, life coach and biggest cheerleader during his ascent to the top of the corporate world.
In 2014, John, a graduate of Florida A&M University with a Master’s Degree from MIT in Management Science, succeeded Bill Gates as the chairman of Microsoft. John is a former vice-president at IBM and the former CEO of cyber security giant Symantec. John led the search for Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. Today, John, who is 70-years-old, is one of the most powerful corporate executives in the world and he reached the top without denying his heritage or cultural upbringing.
Throughout the reign of her greatness, Brenda never sought recognition for her daily good works. Humility was her calling card. Making a positive difference for humanity was her legacy. The world was Brenda’s family and she loved it with all of her heart.
Three years after her death, I still miss Brenda dearly and I thank God for allowing my life to be touched by her greatness. I will never forget Brenda and her positive impact upon the world. In the end, she lifted us all.
PHOTO: Brenda Lee Thompson Carter (1947-2016).