HUNTINGTON — “His life was Rotary, fire service and civic service.”
Robert “Bob” Carpenter, mortician, Rotarian and proud member of the Huntington community, died Tuesday at St. Mary’s Medical Center. He was 87.
“Robert ‘Bob’ Carpenter was a consummate professional and a true gentleman. He exemplified what it meant to be a funeral director,” said Fred Kitchen, past president of the West Virginia Funeral Directors Association and member of the West Virginia Board of Funeral Service Examiners.
“He, along with his generation, helped set the standard for the high level of care that many Huntington area families receive today as well as positively influencing funeral service in the state of West Virginia. While it’s sad to see him pass on, his legacy will live on through those he cared for, mentored and influenced for years to come.”
He was a mentor to many of today’s generation of local funeral directors, and several noted that their funeral director licenses were signed by him or they worked for him at Klingel-Carpenter early in their careers.
Just like his father, Tim Carpenter grew up in the funeral service. As a boy of 12, he was “assistant janitor” at the funeral home and watched his father care for families back in the day and take ambulance calls, including the 1970 Marshall University football plane crash.
It was Bob Carpenter who was responsible for caring for the remains of those unidentified victims, Tim Carpenter said, adding, “Dad convinced the park board to create a memorial at Spring Hill Cemetery for the unidentified.”
That memorial is visited every spring by the Marshall football team and coaches and, many times, visiting teams.
After that, he became a highly regarded expert in disaster response. He wrote articles and books for FEMA and was recognized by the National Funeral Directors Association as the first chairman of a nationwide emergency program that has trained more than 5,000 professional members.
Additionally, Bob Carpenter was a member of the disaster advisory committee of FEMA, the American Red Cross and the United Nations.
“If you needed information, he was your go-to person about Rotary,” said David G. Amos, president of the Ceredo-Kenova Rotary Club.
Rotary past district governor Ray Pollard said Bob Carpenter was a “great example of community service.” That included local, national and international involvement, Pollard said.
Bob Carpenter was the National PolioPlus coordinator and a member of the International World Community Service Committee for Rotary.
He was also one of the founders of CONTACT of Huntington, served as campaign chairman of the United Way, worked with the Stella Fuller Settlement, Tri-State Area Boy Scouts, Southwestern West Virginia Heart Association, Cabell-Huntington Mental Health Association and chairman of the March of Dimes.
He was also president of the Tri-State Fire School and Academy from 1958 until 1997. The training facility along Ohio River Road is named in his honor.
In a 2002 interview with The Herald-Dispatch, Bob Carpenter said, “We had no idea this kind of thing was in such demand until we had people from all over the country signing up to take training classes.”
His involvement with disaster coordination and training came largely after seeing the response to the Marshall plane crash.
In 1980, he began the National Funeral Directors Emergency Disaster Committee, which later became “D-Mort,” a federally funded program consisting of morticians, dentists, DNA experts, forensic scientists and medical examiners. It is a team ready to assist with multiple-death disasters that are declared a national emergency.
“Huntington has lost a living example of compassion and commitment. Bob Carpenter served our community through his business by assisting people in their darkest hours following the death of a loved one,” said Mayor Steve Williams. “He was committed to supporting the Huntington Fire Department in every way possible, and the city of Huntington will always be indebted to his vision of creating the Tri-State Fire Academy.”
Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader said Bob Carpenter set a high standard for community service. She credits him with bringing training resources to local firefighters, such as the medical examiner from Somerset, Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 crashed on 9/11.
“I wouldn’t have the thirst for knowledge I have without him,” Rader said. “He provided the schooling to the community. He was probably the No. 1 supporter of the fire service.”
Funeral services for Bob Carpenter will be 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14, at First Presbyterian Church. Visitation for family and friends will be from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, at Klingel-Carpenter Mortuary.
Memorial donations are suggested to The Robert D. Carpenter Training Center c/o the Tri-State Fire Academy, 4200 Ohio River Road, Huntington, WV 25702; the Rotary International Foundation; or First Presbyterian Church. Memories and thoughts may be shared with his family at www.klingelcarpenter.com.