A Life: Fred Carleton Jr., 1930-2015; ‘In An Age of Pessimism ... A Breath of Fresh Air’

Monday, October 26, 2015
Hanover — Meg Carleton sat at the edge of her father’s hospital bed. It was 2 a.m., and Fred Carleton Jr. had a pesky habit of trying to rip out the tubes that doctors and nurses had inserted into him. Staying with him at night to make sure he didn’t wreak too much havoc had become necessary.

It was the last of a long line of hospital visits for Carleton — this time, the result of a ruptured valve in his heart, which forced the 84-year-old to the comfortable confines of a blanket and mattress. The morphine, used to numb the pain, was beginning to kick in. The former business executive was a little delirious.

He called to his daughter, who leaned in close to see what he needed.

“You know,” Carleton recalled her father saying just a month before he died at Kendal at Hanover on Aug. 23, “if you can just let me down onto the floor, I think I can crawl out of here.”

He was that kind of guy.

“He refused, refused to give in,” his son, Ted Carleton, editor-in-chief of The Sheet , a weekly newspaper in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., said in an email to one of his father’s old friends, David Cost. “Dad’s greatness was so understated. Even as his son, it crept up on me. But, boy, was he great.”

Fred Carleton was born in Minneapolis, spending his childhood between Hinsdale, Ill., Denver, Colo. and River Falls, Wis. It was in Wisconsin that Carleton’s love of tennis blossomed, something that stuck with him for the rest of his life.

“He grew up spending his summers on a farm in Wisconsin,” said Carleton’s first wife, Mollie Carleton, whom he married in September 1964. “He had some cousins next door who had a makeshift tennis court. He learned how to play there. With lots of cousins and siblings out in the country in the summertime with no one around, it was the perfect sport for him.”

Carleton — a descendant of Henry G. Carleton, a 19th century president of the Savings Bank of Newport and longtime editor of the New Hampshire Argus and Spectator — returned East for high school, graduating from Kimball Union Academy in 1948 and Dartmouth College in 1953 before earning his master’s degree at Amos Tuck School of Business Administration (now Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College) and his post-graduate degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Through and through, Carleton was a businessman with a businessman’s savvy. For all who knew him, part of his business charm was his genial, attractive personality. Part of it was his natural ability to remain optimistic at all times.

“He always figured that if a company was in trouble, or doing poorly, don’t worry about it,” Ted Carleton said. “Some smart guy will come along and fix it ... There were too many smart people in the world that, eventually, one of them would come along and figure it out.

“He was so optimistic,” his son said. “He always gave everyone the benefit of the doubt, which I think in an age of pessimism made him such a breath of fresh air.”

It’s that optimistic attitude that attracted Mollie to him in the first place. That, and an affinity for Japanese food.

“I met Fred in San Francisco,” Mollie said. “I was at Stanford doing laser research ... I was staying with some friends from college. Fred lived upstairs. We met and it sort of grew from there. I was very comfortable with him, he was a great complement to me ... Very outgoing.

“I had been to New York, I had met some superficial people,” she added. “Fred wasn’t like that. He was just a genuinely good person. I fell in love. He was irresistible.”

On their first date in January 1964, Carleton took Mollie to a Japanese restaurant. He had spent some time in the Army as an accountant stationed in Japan, so he was familiar with some traditional Japanese dishes.

“He really did know how to woo a gal,” Mollie said. “I didn’t know I had an affinity for Japanese, but when he found out, he really pursued me.”

The pair were married nine months later.

“He was a really magnetic, attractive young man,” she said.

After spending the better part of two decades in the computer industry with IBM, Honeywell and Litton Industries, Carleton migrated to New York to join some fellow Dartmouth graduates in Computer Property Corp. In 1974, he became a partner at Greenwich Investment Co., which specialized in brokering small businesses, matching buyers and sellers and securing venture capital. It was there that he was introduced to K-Ross Building Supply Co. in Lebanon — which Carleton bought from Harry Rosenburg in 1976.

“We moved up (to the Upper Valley) from Connecticut when I was in sixth grade,” said Meg Carleton, who runs Tiger Tail Lodge in Etna. “For a kid, that’s a huge move. But for him, buying a company in Lebanon was his way of getting back home.”

After spending much of his life in various cities, Carleton finally settled down. He joined the Lebanon Rotary Club and bought several buildings in downtown Lebanon.

“We were in Rotary together,” said Paul Boucher, president and CEO of the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce. “He was a low-key guy. He never got excited ... He was a good guy, a good Rotarian.”

Carleton sold K-Ross to Barker Steel in 1985 and stayed on as president of the company before retiring in the early 1990s.

But around the time he moved to the Upper Valley, Carleton suffered a tennis accident that changed his life.

“Dad was probably 46 or 47 (at the time),” Ted Carleton said. “He was going to hit an overhead, but he missed it, fell on his face and split his chin open. That led to a parade of medical stuff — they didn’t know what the hell he had.”

He was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and stenosis, which severely affected his mobility. But for a guy like Carleton, it seemed more like a nuisance than a crippling disease. His ever-optimistic attitude and his passion for life kept him on the tennis court, on the ski slopes, on the golf course — kept him moving. For a man used to perpetual motion, the urge to keep going was stronger than the disease that demanded he slow down. Carleton just wasn’t listening.

“He would often joke that the one thing MS taught him was how to fall,” Ted Carleton said. “He never complained. Never once did he say, ‘Woe is me, I can’t do what I did before ...’ He always felt that if he could just keep going ... a lot of people just give up. He really pushed.”

“He was very optimistic,” Mollie Carleton said. “I guess you would say that when he would think about the next day, he expected it to go well ... that no one could defeat him.”

Midway through his 60s, Carleton was still putting on his skis in Aspen, Colo. with the Dartmouth Has-Beens — a group of Dartmouth alumni who got together in the Rockies every winter.

“He just wanted to participate,” Ted said.

Later, Carleton met Mitzi Archibald, who became his second wife in 1997.

Mitzi, who had lived in Maine, moved with Fred to the Upper Valley, where they settled down between Etna and Norwich before moving into Kendal at Hanover.

“Nice-looking man,” Mitzi Carleton said of Fred. “I could see that he was having trouble walking (when I first met him). I’m a caregiver by nature ... For some reason, I don’t know why, his impediment made me second guess. That didn’t last long.”

He was the kind of guy that made friends almost anywhere he went, a talent that made going with him to a crowded room difficult. But Carleton was never one to step down from a challenge. The more challenging, in fact, the better.

“One of his favorite things was the IRS and lawyers because they were such a challenge,” Mollie Carleton said. “Fred was that kind of (person). He was very egalitarian, he had such a broad scope on life. He did the best that he could, and it usually worked.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at 603-727-3306 or at jweinreb@vnews.com.

Fred Carleton Jr.

1930 — 2015

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