May 22, 1923 – October 4, 2017
Game, Set, Match
By her children Rob (Robert Stuart Carter) and Katie (Katherine Landon Carter Zimmer)
(Rob) Now we are going to ask you to step out of your box a little bit here, but bear with us…Stand up.
(Katie) Everybody shake hands with your (imaginary) racket. Now that you have the correct grip, turn slightly sideways…Now,
(Katie and Rob) Cut off your toes, scratch your back and throw the racket across the net.
(Rob) And so begins one of Kit Carter’s famous tennis lessons. (You may sit down…) But what we have come to realize is that Mom’s tennis lessons were also life’s lessons. She played the game of tennis with the same tenacity, honesty, and class that she modeled for us in the rest of her life.
(Katie) Let’s start with the forehand. Rob, I’ll take the forehand because my forehand was always better than yours…Here are the basics: Racket back, step into the ball, follow through and always watch the ball all the way to the strings. Sounds simple enough, but if you don’t believe you can do it and if you don’t approach it with a positive attitude, you can easily get discouraged. Mom taught us the value of positivity. Here are just a few examples of how she lived life with a positive approach.
(Rob) Once Mom and Pop came to Bald Head Island to celebrate Pop’s 80th birthday. Now Mom had given up the making of Pop’s Chocolate Cake to Bevie long ago…it is NOT an easy cake to make as its multiple layers love to slide around. Since Bevie was not there to bake his favorite cake, Mom took on the task. The cake misbehaved and a great cavern broke out in the middle. Mom didn’t see that as a problem. She found two Krispy Kreme donuts, stuffed them in the hole, iced the cake and served it with a smile. I’m sure it was “the best cake” she ever ate! She always knew how to make lemonade out of lemons.
(Katie) Earlier this summer when Mom was getting weaker every day, I decided to call her daily on my drive to work. Every morning, I’d say, “Hey, Mom.” She’d answer, “Katie??” “Yes, It’s Katie” (She rarely had her hearing aids in at that time of the morning.) Then I’d ask her how she was doing? And the answer was always the same, “I’m just fine. How are you?” Not once did she say I’m really tired or I didn’t sleep well. She was always positive and more interested in me and what I was doing than she was in herself.
(Rob) Some of you may remember when she had a stroke five years ago. If you visited her in the hospital or called her on the phone to ask how she was doing, her answer was always the same, “I’m fine. I’m having a stroke.” She even made having a stroke a positive experience. This past January, she was hospitalized because she was very anemic. She stayed in the hospital for 3 days while they infused her with several units of blood. Does that sound like fun to you? No, not to me either, but still she told everyone that “those were the nicest 3 days of my life.”
So we have all learned from her forehand lesson the value of positivity.
(Katie) Now that brings us to the backhand. Now here’s where Rob and I differ a little. I hit a two handed backhand. He hits a one handed backhand. How could that be? We learned from the same teacher. Mom. Her philosophy here was that you choose one and then you stick with it. Don’t go second guessing yourself. Stick. With. It. From the backhand lesson, we learned loyalty and fidelity. We learned to be dependable and faithful in our relationships. Mom was fiercely loyal. She loved her family and her friends and she was devoted to them.
(Rob) One of those relationships was with her sister, Ann. Mom was only 11 months younger than Ann so they were friends and companions all the way through High School and Mary Baldwin. Then they went their separate ways. But they continued to talk almost daily. Mom did have to remind Ann at one point that 7 am was entirely too early for her daily check in call…But they continued this habit until the very end. Ann was especially good about sending Mom newpaper clippings from the Washington Post so they would have topics to discuss. Theirs was an intense, often competitive relationship but a loyal one nonetheless. The most recent competition concerned their obituaries. Ann has been working on hers for years and would often read Mom parts of it. Mom began to worry in recent weeks that she had not prepared an obituary so she kept asking one of us to write one. So about 10 days ago, Bevie started working on it and because Mom kept asking, she read it to her one day. Mom seemed fairly pleased and said she had been worrying that it wouldn’t be as long as Ann’s (there’s that competitive gene that she passed along to all of us…). But family loyalty was important to Mom and she has passed that along to all of us.
(Katie) Mom was a part of many groups. And she loved each group and each person in the group. Her tennis groups were her first love. Not being able to play tennis after her stroke was hard for Mom. But recently, she admitted to Bevie that it was not the tennis she missed, it was her tennis friends that she missed. There were also the cribbage boys who appeared every Tuesday evening with snacks and wine to play a couple rounds of cribbage. It was always a highlight of her week. Of course, there was her long-standing Book Club group of which she was a charter member, and Mom always looked forward to traveling with her “out of town tennis girls” to play tennis, get away for some girl time and drink some wine. For years, mom adopted several “friends” living in various nursing homes around the county to visit weekly. For some of these friends, Mom was their only visitor and she was always a faithful friend. More recently, Mom enjoyed being a part of the Emmanuel Prison Ministry group that makes regular visits to the Craigsville. And Mom loved her Baldwin Park family. After moving home from Baldwin Park in May, she planned and gave a party for her Baldwin Park friends because she wanted to show them her ‘view’.
But most important for us, her children, was the special relationship she had with each of us. There are 8 of us and we are all very different. She loved each of us deeply for who we were, she supported our goals, and she was steadfast in her dedication. Even though we always tried to get her to pick a favorite…even trick her into naming one, she never would. I’m embarrassed to say I even tried last week when she was mostly sleeping and not as lucid. I had called from CA to check on mom and Bevie put the phone to her ear. I whispered, Hi Mom, it’s Katie. Mom, am I your favorite? I didn’t even think I would get a response, but she immediately whispered in an almost inaudible voice, “not fair”. Now if you ask Robby, he will say he was her favorite and we let Robby believe that. But just like she taught us with the backhand, we learned that loyalty and fidelity to our family and friends was a non-negotiable.
(Rob) So Katie, is there where you want to go off script?
(Katie) Yes, I think this is a good spot, Rob.
Bevie and Steve, On behalf of all your siblings, your children, your nieces and nephews, and your grandchildren, we want to thank you for the incredible care and love you have given Mom over the last 11 years. I think is is safe to say that you both have perfected Nanny’s lesson of fidelity and loyalty. Companion, driver, cook, travel agent, social director, personal shopper, nurse, friend, son, daughter…you have been it all and done it all. You are the reason that Nanny was able to truly enjoy her life to the end and we are forever grateful to you.
(Rob) So Katie, I’ll take the volley because we all know I am the best volleyer in the family. The key to the volley is being prepared and wanting the ball. Mom would always tell us, “Wish the ball to you.” When you do this, you are ready, and you have the opportunity to hit a winner. Now, of course, being in the competitive family that we are, hitting a winner makes us grateful. Mom’s volley lesson reminds us of how thankful she was for all of her opportunities. Anyone that knew Mom, has heard her say, “That was the BEST meal I’ve ever had, BEST play I’ve ever seen, BEST tennis match I’ve ever watched…” You get the picture. She loved life and she was grateful for everything and everyone. We all hope that we can live out the remainder of our lives following the example Mom set for us with her smile and positive demeanor.
(Katie) So, Rob, have we left out any stroke?
(Rob) Katie, it’s one of the most important ones…we haven’t talked about the Overhead.
(Katie) Ah, the overhead. I was never very good at the overhead. So much to remember: turn your shoulders, move your feet, judge where the ball will come down, and time your stroke, and then swing UP on the ball!
(Rob) That’s right, Katie. Mom taught us to “rise to the occasion”. And, indeed, Mom was really really good at ‘rising to the occasion’. Here are just a few recent examples. This past summer, our family attended a family reunion in The Plains, Virginia. This branch of our family had not had a reunion in 80 years. Mom whose energy level at this time had significantly deteriorated was determined to go. So she headed out to the infusion center, got herself pumped up with a couple of units of perky blood, and headed to The Plains for a 3 day party. She attended every event and if anyone ever asked her how she was feeling, she always smiled and said “Just fine.”
Just 3 weeks ago, I surprised Mom with a mid-week visit. Bevie had advised me to come soon if I wanted a good visit. As soon as I appeared, her face lit up, we drank a little wine on the patio and then she said, “Let’s go see Willie Hayes. He’s playing at Edelweiss.” So off we went to Greenville for dinner and a little music. I thought to myself, “Bevie is an alarmist. Mom is ‘just fine’.” Little did I know what an effort it was for Mom to ‘rise to the occasion’ and show me a good time. And Mom often rose to the occasion in her late 80s as we would go to the US Open in New York. She would hop on the subway, walk up and down the multitude of stairways, and sit for hours and hours while she watched match after match. I know this must have exhausted her, but she always ‘rose to the occasion’.
(Katie) In the final week to ten days of her life, Mom had lots of visitors. Her ‘boyfriends’ (and their wives) came, the cribbage boys came, and some friends came from a distance, but throughout all the visits, Mom wanted to be dressed up and looking pretty. That was also part of her ‘tennis lesson’ advice to us. She never let us go on the court without the proper attire. Bevie and I had to wear tennis dresses or skirts and the boys had to have on the proper shorts, shirts, and shoes. She always said, “If you look good, you will play better!” So even to the end, her appearance mattered to her. This is another example of her ‘rising to the occasion’.
We’d like to tell you about her final weekend and how she was able to ‘rise to the occasion’. My brother Lee and I had long-planned to come into town last weekend. When we made our plans, we did not realize that Mom would be nearing the end. But as time drew near, Bevie was putting the word out to all the family that Mom was getting weaker and that it would be good to get together. So between Friday evening and Monday morning, Mom enjoyed the company of 26 of our family members: children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Every day, Mom would make the effort to get dressed, put on a little make up, and have some quality time with everyone either on her patio, the living room or Bevie’s porch. There were marvelous dinners, good tennis matches, and even a little wine. One night, my husband, Paul, called from San Diego and asked Nanny what she was doing. She didn’t pause a second before saying, “We’re having my wake and it’s the BEST wake I’ve ever been to!” When the weekend was over, she told many of us that “Those were THE BEST 4 days of my life.” And she even told Anne Carter, Bevie, and me that she hoped we’d have “as much fun dying” as she was having. That’s our Mama. That’s the way to “rise to the occasion”.
(Rob) So I think it’s time to wrap this up. But before we do, we must tell you the final part of the lesson. Good Sportsmanship was a tremendous emphasis in our family. When asked recently what Mom would like to be remembered for, she paused, thought hard, and then answered, “I’d like for people to remember that I was a good sport.” And when asked what she’d want for her grandchildren and great grandchildren, she said, “I want them to be happy and I want them to be good sports.” So the final part of the lesson or match always ended the same way, whether it was just a family game or a ‘real’ match, she taught us to walk to the net, look the opponent in the eye, shake their hand, and say “Good Match”.
(Katie) And so, thank you Kit Carter, Mom, Nanny, for the many lessons you have taught us by your example.
(Rob) And I think we can all agree, Mom, that you played a good Game. Set. Match.
Katherine Kivlighan Carter, 94, died peacefully surrounded by family on October 4, at her home in Fort Defiance. She had just enjoyed a four day self proclaimed “wake” during which Kit (also known as Nanny and Mom) had “the best time of her life” as her family gathered to say good- bye.
She was born on May 22, 1923, in Staunton, a daughter of Mabel Hollar Kivlighan and John Joseph (Joe) Kivlighan.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Dr. Samuel Henley Carter, and her son, Thomas Fleming Carter.
She is survived by her sister, Ann Kivlighan MacLeod and seven children and their families: Henley Carter and his wife, Mary; Beverley Coffman and her husband, Steve; Joe, Alex, and Lee Carter; Rob Carter and his wife, Lindsay; Katie Carter Zimmer and her husband, Paul. Kit was much loved and adored by her eleven grandchildren: Anne Carter Coffman Smith and her husband, Dean; Lee Coffman and his wife, Ashley; Hunter, Heath, Thomas, Joseph, Stuart and Sam Carter; Gus Zimmer and his wife, Gabrielle; Sam and Kate Zimmer. Kit also had five great grandchildren: Katherine, Wesley and Sam Smith; Henley Ann and Collins Coffman. She is also survived by Tom’s wife, Marcy, her husband, Adam, and their daughter, Julia, and her nephew Colin MacLeod. In addition, she had two very special little friends, Anna Katherine and Lila Hayes.
Kit was the salutatorian in the Class of 1940 at Robert E. Lee High School. She graduated from Mary Baldwin College in 1944. From 1944 until 1946 she served as an aerographer’s mate in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).
On March 30, 1946 she married Samuel Henley Carter. After a residency in Roanoke, Virginia, they settled in Fort Defiance where they raised 8 children. Kit volunteered and served on many boards after her children were grown. In 1987, she was given the J Lewis Gibbs Distinguished Service Award by the Mental Health Association for outstanding service in the field of mental health. She received the Emily Smith Medallion award in 1991 for outstanding service to others and the college of Mary Baldwin. She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to the tennis community in 2010. She was the first director of the Staunton Senior Center which was started by the Valley Program for the Aging in 1974.
Kit was a life long resident of the Staunton area. She was very proud of the local history and was a member of both the Augusta Historical Society and Historic Staunton Foundation. She provided much information that has been utilized in the Historic Staunton Downtown walking tours brochure. She was also a member of the Thursday Morning Music Club.
Kit was an avid tennis player and fan. She won the Women’s Division of the News Leader tournament when she was only 15. She continued to play tennis until she was 89 years old. She loved her tennis friends and told all of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren that if you learn to play the game of tennis “you will always meet nice people wherever you go.” Kit was above all the epitome of a good sport.
The family would like to thank Patricia Denoncourt for her loving care for the past five years, Katrina Smith, and Hospice of the Shenandoah.
Kit was a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Staunton. Her celebration of life service will be held there on Sunday, October 8 at 2:00 pm with burial following in Augusta Stone Cemetery in Fort Defiance. There will be a reception following the service at the Carter residence in Fort Defiance.
Coffman’s Funeral Home is handling the funeral arrangements.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Augusta Health Hospice of the Shenandoah, c/o Augusta Health Foundation, PO Box 1000, Fishersville, Virginia 22939 or Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 300 W. Frederick Street, Staunton, Virginia 24401.