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Morris Carter - Health Department doctor honored with Street

 | Published on 10/4/2010
Dr. Morris Carter, physician to generations of Flagler families, is being honored with a street renaming in Bunnell. N-J | David Massey

BUNNELL -- Reaching his 80th birthday last month and ending 34 years of private practice this week doesn't mean one of Flagler County's first black doctors won't stop seeing patients at the Flagler County Health Department.

For three days a week, Dr. Morris Carter still will be asking his smaller patients if they have elephants in their ears, listening closely to the latest malady and staying on as the Flagler County Health Department's medical director.

Some in Bunnell, however, have felt the need to prepare for the inevitable day he hangs up his stethoscope -- by making sure he'll be part of the Flagler Health Department for all posterity.

No longer will the Health Department be on Lemon Street, but on Dr. Carter Boulevard.

Soft-spoken and self-effacing, Carter said the honor -- expected to be approved by Bunnell city commissioners on second reading today -- took his breath away.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I really appreciate the honor."

Even those who will be inconvenienced by the changeover don't mind at all. The staff will be changing the letterhead at Rarities Auto Classics, but Mark Ferraz, the owner, is doing that gladly. His wife had Dr. Carter for her physician. And he's got another reason.

"I always feel funny telling people we are a car dealer on Lemon Street," he said, smiling.

Dr. Carter, the father of one daughter, came to Bunnell in the early 1970s through a government program aimed at serving the medical needs of migrant workers. It was so difficult for the workers to get time off during the day for medical care he usually worked from 5 p.m. to midnight.

"And sometimes later," he said. "'Til the last patient was seen."

He co-founded the Flagler County Medical Society. He became the first black doctor to open a practice in the county in 1976.

Bunnell Vice Mayor Jenny Crain-Brady's 25-year-old daughter started seeing Dr. Carter when she was 6 weeks old. Crain-Brady describes his professional approach to problems as somewhere between aggressive to conservative and his demeanor as "a sweetheart."

"He doesn't rush through his appointments," said Crain-Brady, who introduced the street-name change. "Losing him in our city limits as a physician is going to be a big loss. He's going to be hard to replace."

Joann Atkinson said she can't imagine who's going to take his place. She is the second of four generations in her family who has been seeing him -- most recently her 8-year-old granddaughter.

"Some places, you just feel like a number," she said. "Not him -- he knows you by name."

Dr. Carter said he's never practiced medicine to get rich -- family practice is one of the lowest-paying among the medical disciplines. But don't ask him to give up his gig at the Flagler County Health Department and the Flagler County jail.

"I thought about it (retiring completely), but then I thought 'What am I going to do?' "

Bonnie Welter, nursing director at the Flagler Health Department, praised his ability to get even the neediest of Flagler County's patients in to see the specialists whom they need -- even if they don't officially take Medicaid, the state's insurance for low-income Floridians.

"If there is a need and it's something he can't do, he gets that done," she said.

And there's also his rapport with those who haven't been to kindergarten yet.

"It's such a delight to assist him in the examining room," she said. "He'll put the kids to work, holding a light. Or ask them if they have elephants in their ears."

Dr. Carter said he's just glad to be there.

"It's an honor to serve," he said.

© 2010 The Daytona Beach News-Journal.