At Northwestern High School in the 1960s, Henry Carr was called the “Gray Ghost” because of his amazing speed in track. But later in life, after becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, he was most interested in the Holy Ghost, in reading the Bible and teaching the importance of service to others. Carr was 72 or 73 when he died of cancer May 29 in Griffin, Ga.
From the moment he stepped onto the track at Northwestern High School—as a matter of full disclosure, he was a freshman, and I had graduated four years before he arrived—he burned the cinders. His victories in the city and state sprint events were harbingers of greater success that would culminate at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, where he won gold medals in the 200-meter dash and on the 4×400 relay team.
“I didn’t think it was that fast,” Carr told reporters after winning the 200-meter race, setting an Olympic record at 20.3 seconds. “This was the easiest of my races.”
The races may have been easy for the gifted sprinter, but mastering the reality races of life were a bit more challenging.
Born in Montgomery, Ala., Nov. 27, 1941 or 1942, depending on the source, Carr was ninth of 11 children, and he was still very young when the family relocated to Detroit. At Northwestern, he not only excelled in track and field but also was an outstanding football and basketball player.
But it was at Arizona State that he began to acquire his national reputation, winning the 220-yard dash in 1963 and tying for first place that year in the AAU event. The victory was his outright the next year, when by then he was a member of the Phoenix Olympic Club. After his success at the Olympics in Tokyo, Carr was practically unbeatable in the 200-meter, and he also competed well in the 100-meter and 400-meter races.
His speed and size made him a perfect fit for football, and for three years, from 1965 to 1967 he was a defensive back for the New York Giants. Back in Detroit after leaving the Giants, he tried out for the Lions but injuries curtailed that possibility.
With his athletic ability in decline, Carr struggled to make a living, finding it difficult to obtain decent employment after his bar was closed. Gambling and drug addiction took their toll, and he was now in another, more important, race.
“In time, I hit rock bottom morally as a man, coming into association with drug dealers and prostitutes,” he wrote in The Watchtower, a Jehovah’s Witness publication.
It was his commitment to the Witnesses that rescued him from further debilitation and hurt. Also, there was his faithful companion and wife, Glenda, his high school sweetheart.
“He was a beautiful runner—graceful,” she recalled of Carr’s running style. “He was effortless. There was no strain. A very unusual runner.”
Some of that style and grace can be seen on YouTube, where he is shown winning the 200-meter race in Tokyo. See www.youtube.com/watch?v=73JPTcAZN64.
In 1997, Carr was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, and the track at Northwestern High School bears his name.
“Stars are soon replaced and generally forgotten,” he wrote in the Watchtower. “Rather than competing with others to be best, helping and serving others is what brings true satisfaction.”
In addition to his wife, Carr is survived by two daughters, Piper and Andrea Carr; a son, Peyton; four brothers, Emmitt, Linwood, Jasper and Ethan; three sisters, Flozell Coachman, Charity Harris and Escalita Jones; and five grandchildren.