Always a Bronco: Esteemed Burrillville native Carter celebrates homecoming, reflects on local roots

Jeff "Ace" Farrell, left, who organized the tribute to Carter, stand with Ted Carter and his wife Lynda in front of the signage on the outside of the BHS gym. NRI NOW photo by Dick Martin.

BURRILLVILLE – There is an old adage: “You can never go home again.”

But, on Friday, Sept. 8, when Walter “Ted” Carter Jr. walked in the Burrillville High School gymnasium that was about to bear his name, surrounded by family, friends, former teachers and classmates, it certainly felt like home.

“Going into the gymnasium…it feels like the comfortable shoe you always wanted to hang onto,” said Carter. “But it also felt different, going into Burrillville High School, recognizing things that were new when I left and now are like 50 years old. Even the gymnasium, which I know well… it just brought back so many memories of being in that space. It was an incredible feeling.”

Carter wasn’t just another nostalgic former athlete and student. A 1977 graduate, his mother, the late Dorothy Carter, was a popular English teacher at the high school. Carter lettered in basketball, soccer and track and was an honor roll student while there. More importantly, he was the first graduate to attend and graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, going on to serve for 38 years in a number of capacities, including being a Top Gun naval aviator and setting a record for landing on 19 different aircraft carriers with 2,016 carrier arrested landings. Carter earned the Distinguished Flying Cross with distinction for valor and the Bronze Star. Additionally, he commanded the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and was the Carrier Strike Group Commander on the final deployment of the USS Enterprise in 2012.

Carter, now a vice admiral, went on to become the 54th President of the U.S. Naval War College, and the 62nd superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy before moving on to take the reins as the President of the University of Nebraska in 2020. Most recently, he was recruited to become the 17th  President of Ohio State University.

Ted Carter and his wife Lynda stand near the floor signage dedicating the Burrillville High gym in his honor. NRI NOW photo by Dick Martin

Coming home to BHS, he recalled, brought back a flurry of memories, including former teachers and events.

“I was really inspired by Frank Hauser who was my biology teacher and got me started on a science fair project,” recalled Carter. “I ended up, four years later, going to the International Science Fair in Cleveland, Ohio, with that project.”

Carter wound up, “winning a few accolades,” one of which was sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute of Oceanography.

“Magically, I got accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy a month later,” he added.

All of that began, he said, due to the inspiration of Hauser, a teacher who made a difference in his life, as well as others.

“That had a big hand in my getting into Annapolis and the story goes from there,” Carter said.

The story that followed, he recalled, was not what he had expected.

“I had visions and dreams but none of them went exactly the way I thought they would,” explained Carter. “I have had many doors close in my career and other doors open, and I have always gone through the doors that were open and made the best of it and good things happened.”

One of those highlights was earning the distinction of being a Top Gun pilot in 1985.

Carter addresses friends, former classmates and teachers and students and faculty in Burrillville High School gymnasium, which was recently dedicated to him. Listening is principal Michael Lazzareschi. NRI NOW photo by Dick Martin

“That was when I realized the Navy thought I was someone special, that I stood out,” Carter recalled. “Commanding a fighter squadron in combat and being able to bring everybody home and all my airplanes home, that was a special memory, just being able to land on aircraft carriers for 35 plus years, then being given the opportunity to lead as the superintendent at the Naval Academy for five years.”

Carter retired from the Navy on July 26, 2019, but didn’t stay retired for very long. The University of Nebraska came knocking, and within the year he was its new president.

“I wanted to stay in higher ed. when I retired,” he recalled. “I was very fortunate that Nebraska found me. I did not go looking for Nebraska. They have welcomed my family and me. They’ve allowed me to do some pretty significant things for the university and the state.”

Carter was also not looking to move on when Ohio State, which boasts one of the top three largest campuses in the country with more than 70,000 students, called on him. Carter recently signed a five year contract with them beginning in January, 2024.

“I didn’t go looking to find another job,” said Carter. “They were very persistent, convincing me that I was the right fit for them. I’m excited about going there and taking on that challenge.”

When Jeff “Ace” Farrell, who orchestrated having the gymnasium named after Carter, first approached him, he was reluctant to accept the honor.

“I was not sure I was worthy of that,” recalled Carter. “There’s a lot of great people in Burrillville, a lot of great athletes.  I kind of pushed back. I said, ‘we really don’t need to do that.’ They convinced me it would be good for Burrillville. I think it was a feel good thing for Burrillville High School at large.”

Farrell, a former classmate, said he had read about Carter’s impressive career.

“It just dawned on me: why not name the gym after him?” recalled Farrell. “How many vice admirals even are there in the state of Rhode Island?”

It didn’t take much pushing to get local officials to agree with the idea, says Farrell. Farrell got the green light from everyone he approached, including the superintendent, the School Committee and the Town Council. After unanimous approval, he approached former classmates and friends, who willingly chipped in to cover the costs of renovating the gym floor and paying for signage. Farrell got the company he works for, KENVO Flooring, to do the gym floor at a reduced price, and he and his brother, Greg, chipped in,  placing the signage on the outside of the building. Carter’s name greets visitors on the outside of the building wall and on the gym floor. A plaque and formal portrait hang in the entrance listing his achievements.

“People should know who he is,” said Farrell. “He’s like this inspirational figure in the town of Burrillville who has left his legacy of just incredible achievement.”

“I think this shows that the education that students can receive at Burrillville High can take you anywhere from here,” said Principal Michael Lazzareschi.

Who says you can’t go home again?

As Carter told the collective audience in his newly named gym: “Once you are a Bronco, you’re always a Bronco.”

Carter has received many awards over his career including being inducted into the R.I. Aviation Hall of Fame,  and the R.I. Heritage hall of Fame. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, the Naval Academy’s highest distinction. He and his wife Lynda Kohlehepp Carter, have two adult children, Christopher and Brittany.

Carter and wife Lynda stand in front of the plaque and formal portrait of Carter located in the BHS gym foyer. NRI NOW photo by Dick Martin
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