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Mr. West Indian Passes

By DANIEL E. GOREN And TANVEER ALI, Courant Staff Writers

January 11, 2008

Keith L. Carr Sr., whose pre-eminent leadership of his community in Greater Hartford for nearly half a century earned him the name "Mr. West Indian," died Monday after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 77.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Carr came to Hartford in 1959 and immediately became involved as an activist and organizer in the city's Caribbean communities. Until his death, there was hardly a West Indian event that took place without him be it a parade, a cricket match in Keney Park or a forum on the history and culture of his native region.

Carr loved music, sports, and art frequently sponsoring educational events about calypso music; the game of cricket, which is wildly popular in his native Jamaica; and Caribbean art and history.

Those who knew him say Carr's true passion lay in helping communities establish common ground, whether those communities were within the Caribbean orbit Jamaicans, Trinidadians, St. Lucians or Barbadians or without. His name was known and his influence felt far beyond Greater Hartford.

"No matter where you traveled in this country, the first thing people in the West Indian community would ask you is 'Oh, how is Mr. Carr doing?'" said Veronica Airey-Wilson, a native West Indian and member of the Hartford City Council.

Carr's daughter, Glynda, and son, Keith Jr., who both live in Brooklyn, N.Y., say West Indians in that community welcome them with open arms because of their father's reputation.

"Hartford has the most organized West Indian community, and I think a lot of it is because of his work, starting back more than 40 years ago," Keith Carr Jr. said Thursday.

"He believed one person could really make change," Glynda Carr said.

Carr was known for having a quiet but persuasive demeanor.

"He didn't make much noise. But when he spoke, people followed," said Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who first met Carr three decades ago when Perez was a community organizer in the city's North End. "This is a big, big loss. He was an intellectual leader."

Carr was also known for what many might consider a modern-day quirk for more than 40 years, he chose not to drive but instead walked or took the bus around the city.

Community leader Leslie Perry, who first met Carr at the West Indian Social Club in the 1960s, said Carr walked because it was how "he gets to hear the beat and the pulse and the voices of the community. He would walk down the sidewalk, and the path would just open. Everyone knew him."

Perry said Carr's style of leadership was similar to that of President Theodore Roosevelt, but with a Jamaican twist.

"He walked softly but swung a huge cricket bat," Perry said. "He was an unassuming man who worked in the background, like a director of a play. You know he is in charge, but he doesn't take the stage."

In his early years in Hartford, Carr joined the West Indian Social Club and eventually became its president. He also served as executive director of the West Indian Foundation, an organization he co-founded in 1978, that has sponsored cultural, outreach and support events to bring West Indians and the rest of the Greater Hartford community together. And he started the West Indian Independence Celebration, an annual festival of food and culture that attracts large crowds each summer.

"To some, he was a prophet. To others, he was an educator, a mentor and an adviser," said Carey Redd, a former first vice president of the West Indian Social Club.

Carr was also a staunch advocate for small businesses in the Upper Albany neighborhood. For more than 17 years, as merchant coordinator for the Upper Albany Merchants Association, he helped secure loans and provided additional support for area businesses.

Carr is survived by two sons, Keith Carr Jr. and Kurt D. Carr of Houston; his daughter, Glynda Carr; and Delores Morgan-Carr, his wife of 43 years.

Funeral services will be held Monday at noon at Bethel A.M.E. Church, 1154 Blue Hills Ave., Bloomfield. Calling hours will start at 10 a.m. The family will also receive friends for calling hours Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Henry Fuqua Funeral Home, 94 Granby St., Bloomfield.

The Carr Family, in conjunction with the West Indian Foundation, has established the Keith L. Carr Sr. Scholarship Endowment Fund in his honor. The family asks that any gifts be made to the fund, care of the West Indian Foundation at 32 Wintonbury Ave., Bloomfield, CT 06002.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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