As a 10-year-old, Jean Gordon Carter knew she wanted to be a lawyer: Glued to the legal dramas she watched on television, she would make her own impassioned summations to the TV jury. Carter still loves to read murder mysteries, but instead of solving crimes, her legal career has been devoted to helping donors and nonprofits find charitable strategies to solve social problems.
“Classic philanthropy is the monetary version,” says Carter, 58, a partner in the Raleigh office of law firm Hunton & Williams. “But I deal with the more holistic version, which is finding a passion and
pursuing it in a way that does good.”
She has held more than a dozen volunteer roles over the years and currently serves as board vice chair for Girl Scouts–North Carolina Coastal Pines, board member for the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, and a member of the Leadership Council of Triangle Community Foundation, one of the region’s biggest general philanthropic funders.
She and her husband, Michael Carter, director of premium audit at Builders Mutual Insurance Co., live in Raleigh.
What about your job inspires you?
I love working with people. I love hearing their stories. I love seeing what excites them. There’s nothing more fun than talking to somebody who’s involved with some creative innovation out in Research Triangle Park and hearing what they’re doing with their company and innovation and inventions, and just seeing their excitement. I like charities. You feel good when you work with them. The people are always inspired by the charitable mission they’re working toward. I love being caught in their enthusiasm and listening to them articulate their passion for the organization and what it does.
What was a volunteer experience that meant a lot to you?
I truly enjoyed being part of the board and chairing the Triangle Community Foundation several years ago. It had such a big-picture look at charity in the Triangle. I work with a lot of other organizations I love. But it was an umbrella, stepping back and looking at the needs in the community and being part of so many facets of the community.
Who do you admire in Raleigh?
Charles Meeker did a great job as mayor. He was very successful. I understand the sacrifice that someone with a busy legal practice makes to do that kind of public service. (Former State Rep.) Deborah Ross, also. She used to work with us (at Hunton & Williams)…all the effort she put into the Legislature.
What do you like about Raleigh?
It’s a great, vibrant community. I’ve been in Raleigh since ’83 and in the Triangle since 1980. It’s a community that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has fun with what it does. It develops in some very creative ways. The Bar is very congenial. People work together well. There are so many cool things – all the restaurants, the arts community, inventions coming out of Research Triangle Park, and the university system. It’s a fun and exciting place.
What does philanthropy mean to you?
Finding something you’re passionate about and working at it in a way that benefits the community generally.
What’s hanging on the wall of your office?
Dad was born and raised in Union County. I have deeds on my walls of family properties that go back to the 1820s and ’30s.
If you won the lottery, what good works would you do with the money?
I’d like to set up a foundation or endowment fund that does whatever is most needed in the community at the time. You can’t do anything static. Even wonderful foundations sometimes get a static purpose at some point. It needs the nimbleness to respond to whatever the greatest need in the community is.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Dad was an Army colonel. I’m an Army brat. I quite literally lived all over the world growing up – Seoul for two years; Anchorage, Alaska, for three years; Washington, D.C.; and Atlanta. Then dad retired from the Army when I was a sophomore in high school, and we moved to Monroe, N.C., which was my parents’ home. I graduated from high school in Monroe.
What did you learn from your parents?
Act ethically or morally in things you do. My father was Thomas L. “Tim” Gordon. He was a battalion commander during the Korean War and was an intelligence officer part of the time, and retired to Monroe and became a city councilman. My dad as a city councilman was very conscientious. He always wanted to do the right thing. Mother (Cleone Hunter Gordon) was very much the same way. She was a classic Army wife. She didn’t work through the years, but she did a lot of volunteer work. She had a bookkeeping background, and she was treasurer of the lady’s gift shop in Korea at the Officers Wives Club, where the money went to charity.
Who are your heroes?
My parents. They were very decent people. They were proud of the U.S. They were proud to be military.