When he was growing up, and when folks around town would hear his name, Luther Carr III would randomly get into conversations with strangers who wanted to share stories about the father with whom he shared a name.
A similar occurrence happened earlier this week when word spread about the death of Luther Carr Jr.
“I was at Alki (Beach) the other day and someone recognized me and just starting talking about him,” Carr III said. “I’ve never heard a bad thing about my dad. I’m excited to be his son; I’m proud to be his son. … He lived a good life, man.”
Luther Carr Jr., known as “Hit and Run” Carr during his days as a football and track standout for the University of Washington in the 1950s, died July 1 in Seattle at age 77.
Carr was a four-sport star at Tacoma’s Lincoln High, setting state records in track and field and setting off a bidding war between the UW, UCLA and Illinois for his services as a halfback. “Where’s Carr Headed? Colleges Drool As Tacoma Ace Adds Track Laurels,” read a Seattle Times headline on May 15, 1955.
Back then, paying college athletes wasn’t uncommon. UCLA had brought Carr to Los Angeles for two recruiting visits and introduced him to celebrities. Illinois reportedly offered $200 a month.
In addition, such a prospect was Carr in baseball that Branch Rickey came to Seattle during Carr’s freshman year at UW to try to lure him away and play in the major leagues. Rickey, of course, is noted for helping to integrate Major League Baseball by signing Jackie Robinson and promoting him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Ultimately, Carr turned down Rickey; the Huskies’ reported offer of $175 per month was enough to keep Carr close to home. Carr was the oldest of nine children who grew up in a Tacoma housing project.
“It was simply a business decision,” his son said Wednesday. “Economically, he needed to help his whole family — his mom and dad and all his younger siblings. Plus, he wanted the opportunity to play in front of local fans. He told me that he had always intended to start a business in Seattle.”
As Carr told The Seattle Times in 2006, “You should go to school where you’re going to live. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Track and field was something Carr had done on a “lark,” he has said, when his baseball schedule allowed. With limited — or even no — practice in the sport, he set a state record of 23 feet, 9.5 inches in the long jump as a senior at Lincoln. He also won state titles in the 880-yard relay and the 100-yard dash, winning that race with a time of 9.9 seconds. Many have speculated that if he had been dedicated to track and field, he could have competed in the Olympics.
Football, though, was his meal ticket at UW. In his first year on the Huskies varsity team, Carr led the team in rushing with 469 yards and five touchdowns while sharing the ball in a crowded backfield. He led the team in receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns as a senior, and was known for his flashy running style.
“They never tried to exploit my talents,” Carr told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2007. “I was aware black players were used differently than whites, and I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t going to change the world.”
Two of Carr’s brothers went on to play at UW: Gary Carr earned two letters as a defensive back in 1969-70, and David Carr earned three letters for the UW basketball team from 1966-68, leading the Huskies at 20 points per game as a senior.
Carr was drafted into the NFL by the San Francisco 49ers in 1959 and played briefly with the AFL’s Oakland Raiders in 1960 before suffering a spinal injury during a punt return. That ended his playing career, but he suffered no permanent damage.
As he had planned, Carr Jr. went on to own a Seattle construction company, and he volunteered with United Way and Seattle Goodwill. He is believed to be the first black to gain membership to Seattle’s Rainier Club and Washington Athletic Club.
“He was a great dad, a great friend, a great role model and a great mentor,” said Luther III, a former UW graduate assistant coach and now the head coach at Chief Sealth High School.
Carr is survived by his wife of 56 years, Frances; his three children, Brenda, Dana and Luther III, and his four granddaughters. The family plans to host a celebration of life in August.