Bishop Ronald H. Carter, a leader of Refuge Apostolic Church of Christ in Freeport for more than 50 years, died Sunday of a long illness at the age of 84.
Carter founded the church 57 years ago in Hempstead, then moved it to Roosevelt and then to Freeport on Broadway, where it has been for the past 40 years. He helmed the parish with his wife of 59 years, Pastor Phyllis Carter.
Carter, who lived in Freeport, wielded influence and a voice with political leaders and community members as a leader of the Black community.
He was a lifelong Republican, but his influence transcended party lines to gain respect and attention from both Democrats and Republicans, officials said.
Deputy Hempstead Town Supervisor Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat and the town’s first and only Black councilwoman, said Carter always took time to listen to members of the community.
“He was a fantastic human being,” Goosby said. “He worked for us, and it was something you really needed. It was important for us to be part of the community and instead of being separated, we all worked together as one.”
Carter was born legally blind and raised in Canton, Ohio, said his daughter Tanya Carter, 57, of Hempstead. She said her father briefly played with a soul band, the O’Jays. But his mother sent him to live with his aunt in Mount Vernon after she said he partied too much, Carter said.
He went to the Church of Christ Bible Institute in Harlem and earned his bachelor’s degree in theology and sociology from Fordham University. He later earned a master’s degree in theology and a doctorate of divinity.
He founded the Refuge church in Hempstead in 1965, which then moved to Roosevelt, with a congregation of about 250 parishioners, before it was demolished by the Town of Hempstead as part of the Roosevelt revitalization plan in 1979. The church moved to its current location in Freeport three years later.
As the congregation grew, Carter became a vocal advocate in the community, working with both Democratic and Republican Nassau County executives, town board members and Freeport village officials.
“It was important to him because we are here, and he wanted to make sure we had a voice and it wasn’t just whites and Blacks and Hispanics,” Tanya Carter said. “He was very wise and very blunt. He had meetings with everyone.”
Carter joined other clergy leaders, including the Rev. Arthur Mackey, to include Blacks and Hispanics in local politics as part of the Republican Party.
Chairmen of both the Nassau County Democratic and Republican parties offered statements of condolence Monday.
“Preparing souls through spirituality and improving communities by decisive action, Bishop Ronald Carter has left an indelible and positive imprint on Long Island,” Nassau County Republican chairman Joseph Cairo said. “The void that has been left by his passing is enormous, and I consider myself blessed to have counted him among my close friends.”
“Bishop Carter was a friend, a respected voice for his community, and someone that I looked to for advice and guidance, as did so many others,” Nassau County and New York State Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said. “He will be long remembered as someone who put his congregants and his neighbors before himself and fought to the very end to better the lives of people in his community and this county.”
One of his final acts was working with the Village of Freeport in developing a property in the village into a 78-unit retirement building, his daughter said.
“Bishop Carter was a pillar to this community and a personal friend,” said Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy. “He was a great leader and he was an asset to Freeport and the entire community.”
Besides his wife and daughter, Ronald Carter is survived by three other daughters, Tracy Carter Randall of Richmond, Virginia; Tina Carter Baker of Freeport; and Tammy Carter Reaves of Canton, Ohio. He had 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Services are planned for Nov. 17 at Greater Refuge Temple in Harlem and Nov. 18 at Zion Cathedral in Freeport, although times have not been set.