When asked to name his favorite memory from his UNC undergraduate days, Geo. “Watts” Carr III quickly responded, “that has to be the day I had a blind date with my wife-to-be, Betsy Steele, for the State-Carolina football game my sophomore year. We met in the stands right after the opening kick-off. Roman Gabriel QB’ed for State, but UNC prevailed. I even met Betsy’s parents at half-time and took her by our home in Durham to introduce her to mine later that evening, a good start.”
But, the most indelible memory for Carr and others in the early 60s was the day he was walking back to the Alpha Tau Omega house from morning classes and received the news that President Kennedy had been shot.
“I was walking past the Morehead Planetarium sundial when someone cried out that awful news,“ Carr recalled.
Following graduation in 1964 and completion of his Marine Corps officer training at Quantico, Betsy and Watts were married in the spring of 1965 and to this day often recall that notable blind date. Both Betsy’s father Flake F. Steele and Watts’ father Geo. Watts Carr Jr. were UNC students in the late 30s and had a passing acquaintance.
Carr’s family has a lengthy history with Carolina. His father was a class of 1940 officer, varsity basketball player, Phi Beta Kappa and was elected President of the General Alumni Association for 1968-69. Carr’s great-uncle, James Horner Winston, was UNC’s first Rhodes Scholar.
Carr followed in his father’s footsteps to Carolina.
“Actually he told me I could go wherever I wanted, but that he would pay for me to go to UNC,” Carr said. “I really never considered going anywhere besides Carolina and loved every minute of it from my experiences as president of the freshman class, to being on the freshman basketball team, to many of my classes and professors, and involvement with campus activities such as the Germans Club and Order of Gimghoul.
“If I had to pick one favorite teacher it would be Dr. Gerald Bell who taught sociology/industrial relations and later consulted for us at Central Carolina Bank and Macfield, Inc. I recently saw ‘Jerry’ at a basketball game and he looked amazingly fit. He was a demanding and hands-on-style professor and you didn’t want to miss a class of his because they were so alive,” Carr said.
It’s hands-on experiences like that, which inspired Carr to establish the Betsy Steele and Geo. Watts Carr Environmental Support Fund to financially assist students at the various field sites of the Institute for the Environment. In 2000, Carr was invited to join the Institute’s Board of Visitors, to add an economic development perspective from his days at the N.C. Dept. of Commerce. He served for over a decade in various roles including a stint as vice chair.
“The longer I was on the Board, the more interested I became in all aspects of the program and the field sites just seemed to offer that hands-on approach to study and learning that I really enjoyed. Betsy and I love the mountains of N.C., but we are both “beach people” at heart and we have had some concerns over the water quality in the Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers as well as their contiguous estuaries, so we initially wanted to direct our assistance to the Morehead City coastal program. We have since expanded the fund and should be assisting in the future at others of the Institute’s six field sites.
“The students seem to be so thankful for the financial assistance,” Carr said. “Many have written and said they couldn’t have undertaken the field site work without the help. Our hope is that with their keen interest and this training, they will be impactful down the road with better science, more ecologically oriented planning, and that this generation of students will make a positive difference on the way we handle environmental matters in the future.”
Since graduation the Carrs have given sufficient gifts to Carolina to qualify for Lux Libertas Society to benefit the UNC Institute for the Environment, UNC libraries, the College of Arts and Sciences and research by the Lineberger Cancer Center. Their planned giving is in place to substantially boost their financial gifting to UNC.
“One thing I have learned through giving back is that there is a place for everyone to give and feel good about it. Every gift matters. A gift does not have to be a headline-grabbing, mega-donation. If hundreds, or thousands, of alumni and friends give modestly, the impact can be just as meaningful,” he said.
Betsy and Watts have two children, both of whom graduated from Carolina in the early 90s, “Libba” Carr LaFave and George Watts Carr IV. Of their three grandchildren, their grandson Jack LaFave is approaching college as a tenth grader at Page High School in Greensboro and has UNC and UVA (his father’s alma mater) on his radar screen.