BENTON TOWNSHIP — Dr. John Carter has worn many hats in his 56 years of service to community health in Berrien County.

On Wednesday he hung up one of the last ones, attending his last meeting as a member of the board of health.

“I think people don’t understand how much he has given to the community,” Mike Mortimore, retired health officer with the Berrien County Health Department, said as Carter, 86, was honored by friends, family and colleagues.

His resume, along with his medical practice, has included membership on the Mercy and Lakeland hospital boards, and numerous other organizations dedicated to improving the lives of citizens.

When he was approached in 2005 about an appointment to the health board, Carter expressed reluctance, recalled Dr. Rick Johansen, the department’s medical director.

“He said ‘I don’t think I’m qualified for that job,’” Johansen said. “You are ultimately qualified.”

Carter’s humility continues.

“I don’t think I deserve any of this,” he said.

Carter said he decided to come on board to learn more about the health department and everything it does. “It’s a good fit,” he said. “It’s been a delight.”

Carter first established his practice here in 1963, and within five years he was named chief of staff of Mercy Hospital in Benton Harbor. He was instrumental in starting intensive care units in St. Joseph, South Haven, Watervliet, Dowagiac, Niles and Berrien Center, and he was one of the first area doctors certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Carter served on the boards of Mercy and Lakeland hospitals from 1971 to 2008. He last worked at Cedarwood Medical Center in St. Joseph, retiring in 1998.

Carter’s dedication to the healing arts is more than skin deep and includes a great well of compassion, offered Berrien County Commissioner Bill Chickering, who said that Carter is his personal physician as well as a long-time friend.

Chickering said his biggest debt to Carter came when his father died. It was Carter who called Chickering, then in Connecticut, with the sad news. Carter, his wife, Barbara, and other friends rallied to support Chickering’s mother and get her through an experience she might not have survived alone, Chickering remembered.

That compassion has been multiplied hundreds of times throughout the community, Chickering added.

Chickering also acknowledged the role that Carter’s wife has had in his success. “I think of them as a team, and not just one.”

Carter himself credited his wife for tolerating his busy schedule, and even saving his life by urging him to seek medical attention when he was experiencing heart pain.

“She said ‘What would you tell your patients to do?’” said Carter, who later had life-saving surgery.

Board member Vanessa Brown, a registered nurse, called Carter “a trailblazer” and “a great mentor.”

Nicki Britten, who rose from epidemiologist to chief health officer with the department under Carter’s watch, thanked him for his encouragement and optimism.

“We’re going to miss you a lot around here,” Britten said.

Carter, an Indiana native who grew up in western Michigan, graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1957. He served as a doctor in the Air Force from 1959-61 and returned to complete his residency in 1963.

As part of the board of health, Carter and six colleagues provide oversight of the health department, which covers a wide range of services, from prenatal care to childhood vaccinations and vision and hearing screenings, flu shots, restaurant and water inspections, substance abuse prevention and health data collection.

The county board of commissioners has received 11 applications from individuals interested in taking the open seat, and two were interviewed. The appointee must be a physician. 

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak