Devoted, long-time Winter Park employee was known as the "Mayor of Central Park"
No other employee has worked for the City of Winter Park longer than James Carter. Having served under twelve mayors during his fifty-one years of service, he holds the record. And while others that hold the same position are commonly known as groundskeepers or caretakers, around town he was fondly called "The Mayor of Central Park" or "The King of Central Park" in honor of his longevity and dedication.
Born in Cordele, Georgia, James "Jimmy" Carter was only a child when he moved to Central Florida with his grandmother in 1925. After re-locating, he lived with his aunt Molly, and it didn't take him long to start working at odd jobs around the city.
In 1943, he started working for the City of Winter Park. For five decades he was responsible for maintaining and preserving the beautiful grounds of Central Park. And although he had no formal education or training in the field of horticulture, he maintained that he acquired his knowledge and understanding of plants and shrubs from watching other professionals and through his own experience. He once stated, "I learned everything right here."
Carter started each day at 5:00 am in his office . . . a concrete shed that faced the railroad tracks on the western edge of Central Park. With a cup of coffee and his Bible at his side, he readied himself to start his work day at 6:00 am. He could be seen every day with his rake, leaf-blower or clippers, trimming shrubs, raking leaves, or caring for his beloved roses. He was easily spotted by the jaunty hat that he wore, a hat that he called his “kangaroo hat.”
While he was known for his hard work and devotion to Central Park, he was equally well known for his way with people. Whether they were residents of Winter Park that he saw every day, or visitors that stopped to admire the park, James Carter greeted them all with a smile and a wave. Frequently, he was engaged in longer conversations, which he enjoyed and felt just came with the job.
Some of the terms and phrases that have been used to describe him are:
Kind * Hard working * Committed * Loyal
Devoted * Meticulous * Indefatigable spirit * Remarkable * Full of spirit
On December 8, 1994, during the Christmas in Central Park festivities, he received public praise, a letter of recognition, and a $1000 check from the Morse Family. The following year, a retirement celebration was held for Mr. Carter on Tuesday, March 14th, 1995 at the Farmer’s Market.
James Carter died on July 5th, 2009 at 88 years of age.
This article was written by former archivist, Barbara White, MLIS.