Community mourns the loss of attorney Henry Lee Carter

Orange attorney Henry Lee Carter, left, is pictured at the 2018 Orange County Business and Industry Appreciation Picnic, speaking to Orange Town Manager Greg Woods. Carter, 83, died at his home May 31.

People across Orange County are mourning the death of Henry Lee Carter, an Orange attorney known for his public service, staunch Democratic politics and gentlemanly manners. Nearly 400 town and county officials, business leaders, court professionals and community activists gathered on June 10 at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church for a service in his memory.

Carter, 83, died of cardiac arrest at his home in Orange on May 31. His wife, Judy, also a prominent local figure and member of the Orange County School Board, died of cancer last August at age 71. 

Habitually dressed in suit and bowtie, Carter was a familiar figure around town for decades. He opened his law practice in Orange in 1974 and was working up until the day of his death, according to his children.

In a visual tribute, Carter’s sons and grandsons wore bowties to the memorial service. All five children lauded the man they called “D-Daddy.” They spoke of his abiding love of family, his subtle humor, his love-hate relationship with technology, his dignity and generosity—and a temper that died down as quickly as it flared.

They also lamented the loss of their advocate, best friend, the one who held the family together following their mother’s death and the one to whom they always turned for advice.

From 2003 until last October, Carter was a member of Somerville, Carter & Wilkinson Ltd. His wife had worked in the same office suite as head of Germanna Title Company. His former law partner Rick Wilkinson said Carter couldn’t bear walking by his late wife’s office so he left the Main Street firm and opened an office of his own on Chapman Street in Orange.

Carter served on Orange Town Council from 1998 to 2016 and was mayor from 2006 to 2010. Mayor Martha Roby, who served with Carter on council and knew him for more than 40 years, said, “Henry had an extremely dry sense of humor. He always made me smile with his little remarks to me during a tense conversation during council meetings.

“He had a presence in a room. His height and his suit and bowtie allowed him to be seen, but he had a quiet way of saying what was on his mind relative to the situation or conversation at hand. His quiet demeanor got people’s attention.”

Former Orange Mayor Chuck Mason said he always thought of Carter as “extremely fair and very fair-minded.” He was impressed by Carter’s continuing concern for town residents living on fixed incomes.

“He was always looking out for the people who didn’t have anyone [else] looking out for them,” Mason said.

Henry Lee Carter was born on Sept. 27, 1935, in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Episcopal High School and from the University of Virginia. He earned his J.D. from Washington & Lee University and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland.

He held several jobs in Washington and northern Virginia before joining Campbell & Campbell, a law firm in Wytheville, in 1965. He later worked for a law firm in Accomac before serving for a year as special assistant to the attorney general for the Virginia Department of Highways in Culpeper. Including his years in Orange, he practiced law in Virginia for more than half a century. He was commonwealth’s attorney for Orange County from 1975 to 1984 and served for many years as the county’s commissioner of accounts, responsible for collecting delinquent taxes.

For the past 35 years, his law career focused on property law, including real estate closing, foreclosures and partition suits. He also handled estate planning, wills and estate administration.

Illustrating the breadth of his knowledge and interests, Carter was a member of the Virginia Board of Psychology and the American Psychological Association’s accreditation committee. Locally, he was active in the Orange Lions Club and the Orange County Chamber of Commerce. He also served as a vestryman for St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church.

Carter was a prominent Democratic leader in a county that has long been a Republican stronghold. He was chair of the Orange County Democratic Committee for 23 years. He also chaired the 30th Legislative District Democratic Committee and the 7th District Democratic Committee. In 1987, he was the Democratic nominee for the Virginia House of Delegates.

According to Terry Anderson, current chair of the local Democratic committee, “Henry Lee's passing is a sad loss for Orange County and the Democratic Party. He worked hard for his principles and beliefs, in both his long record of public service and in his law practice.”

Anderson continued, “He urged me to take the chair of the [local party] committee, and his long memory and experience proved invaluable. He never in any way expressed the anger and bitterness that permeates so much of the political world these days, just a determination to make things better. He was always a gentleman, soft-spoken and polite, always ready to work for the party, and always a friend.”

Carter’s survivors include a sister, five children and nine grandchildren.

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Hilary Holladay covers education and writes feature stories for the Orange County Review. The author of five books, she is currently writing a biography of the poet Adrienne Rich.

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