To try to define Sue Carter by a single career, job title or even a single industry would be impossible. The three time Emmy-award winner, who led an all-women’s trek to the North Pole could never be defined by a single title, but perhaps by a single word: extraordinary.
Carter’s curiosity for exploring started at an early age. As the daughter of a military man, Carter spent six years in France and attended school with children from the NATO nations before moving back to the United States and falling in love with journalism.
“I had an interesting childhood. My father was in the Air Force and all of my elementary education was in the Department of Defense schools. We lived in France for six years and I attended an international school with children of NATO nations. It was a wonderful cultural experience. There were girls in my class from Turkey and kids with all different religions,” Carter said. “We moved back to the States and I started high school in Niles, Mich. I had a great high school experience, but the transition from overseas was challenging; that is when I really became involved in journalism. I worked on the school newspaper and was the editor my senior year.”
Following high school, Carter attended Michigan State University (MSU) with the idea that she would become a French teacher. However, as her college career unfolded and national politics took center stage, Carter found a different calling. “When I came to MSU, I thought about being a French teacher. But it was a challenging time to be at a university … Nixon was elected, Martin Luther King was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was shot, and I spent more time in politics than I did in the classroom. I am the class of 1972, but I technically finished in 1984. I guess you could say I was on the 16-year plan. But what I found during that time was a strong pull to make some change,” said Carter.
Carter was about a semester away from graduating when she landed a job that would kick-start her career. She’d finally found her true calling in broadcasting.
“I had taken a job as a part-time reporter at a local radio station; I was working and taking a class or two at a time when I left for a full-time position. They were looking for a woman,” Carter said. “It was a time where they were strongly urging broadcast to increase diversity and I applied and got the job. It was then I really fell in love with broadcasting.”
Broadcasting offered Carter a unique way to communicate and explore the world. She found her voice and her future in broadcast.
“I like the immediacy of it and the connection with the audience. I have a special place in my heart for radio. What a wonderful form of communication,” said Carter.
After landing her first full-time gig, Carter’s career was a non-stop adventure in creativity and exploration in broadcasting and journalism and eventually, law and education.
“I worked for WVIC for not quite three years and it was clear that I needed to think about the next stop. I applied at WXYZ-AM in Detroit where Dick Purtan was at the time. I was the first women to be part of the news operation and got my toehold in Detroit. I worked at WHMD in Connecticut as the news director and came back to Detroit to work for WABX. I applied at WWJ and quickly became the mid-day anchor. I’d come and go from it through the years. I took a break when my daughter was born and when I worked as press secretary for Jim Blanchard,” Carter said. “When I was the public affairs director and then editorial director at Channel 4 in Detroit, I was going to law school at night. Then I passed the bar and started at Wayne State and did both for a while.”
Carter joined the MSU faculty in 1991 as a professor for the School of Journalism, where she educates on an array of topics including media law, religion reporting, constitutional law, sports media and journalism history. Throughout her career, Carter has held numerous positions at more than a half dozen stations and multiple universities and organizations; through it all, she found new ways to test the limits of her industry and herself.
In 1990, Carter was named UPI Sports Broadcaster of the Year for her work reporting the Detroit Free Press International Marathon while running in it. In 2001, Carter led the first all-women ski expedition to the North Pole. Her group worked with NASA to conduct the first student-directed web cast from the top of the world. Following her extreme adventure, Carter wrote a book of the account titled, Ordinary Women, an Arctic Experience, which was published in 2005.
Never one to stop learning, Carter took on a new role in 2009 when she became an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. Carter jokes it’s her part-time job on Sunday, but in no way takes her position to support and care lightly. “On Nov. 19, 2004 at 6:32 in the evening it was really clear. I was at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers Mich. I stayed in the chapel and all of a sudden this rush came that was really telling me it’s time. I had put it off long enough. It was rightly ordered and I never looked back. Everything fit and what a blessing and a gift it has been. It is a privilege to be invited into peoples’ lives, to share with them and walk with them in their faith,” Carter said.
As a professor, priest, journalist, broadcaster, runner, adventurer, partner, mother, grandmother and friend, it may seem that Carter never sleeps, and though she admits there were long nights along the way, she stresses the importance of knowing her limits and finding support from loved ones.
“I think the challenge is you can’t have it all. You don’t need to try to have it all. You just do it. You go to classes on Saturday morning and you balance a book on a cup of coffee and when you need to, you find a way. I would let others know it’s O.K. to not feel like you have to do it all,” Carter said. “Understand your core. Be self-reflective about your values. Never make decisions alone. Have trusted friends to discuss moves big and small. We are meant to be in community. Jesus was really clear about that; He sent them out two by two.”
Sue Carter was inducted in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame on Thursday, October 29, 2015 for her influential work in broadcasting, government, law and education.
Learn more about Sue Carter and the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame at michiganwomenshalloffame.org