MILTON-FREEWATER - Everyone knew Rob Carter, friends and family of the Milton-Freewater native said Saturday.
Carter, 58, died Friday doing just what he was known for - cherishing and protecting those he loved. When a gunman entered Carter's business shop, Carter threw himself over his employee to shield her from gunfire, McKenzie Marly said.
That's how her father did things, she explained. "He took care of everyone."
Cecil "Rob" Carter was born to Ray and Kathy Carter on July 18, 1953. He and his brothers, Alan and Cliff, found plenty of trouble to get into, much of it fights among themselves, Marly, 33, said, reciting family legend. "But if anyone messed with any one of them, you had to deal with ‘The Carter Boys.' That's what they were known as. But they were brothers in every way."
The family, living in the home place on Chuckhole Lane, had orchards west of town and raised Christmas tress in the mountains. Rob attended McLoughlin Union High School and went into the U.S. Army, serving in Germany.
Carter married his high school sweetheart, Pam Kemp. They later divorced, family members said.
In addition to Marly, Carter was father to Michael Carter, 41; Justin Ezell, 37; and Morgan Carter, 28.
He eventually went to work for Don Johnson's plumbing business, clearing drains. Carter married Sally McNutt on May 17, 1977.
"And when he and my mom wanted to start a family, they decided to go out on their own," Marly said.
Carter put himself through school and established C. Rob Carter Plumbing, becoming the plumber to call on in any kind of situation.
"He could fix anything," his daughter recalled. "He had it all in his head."
Her father was renowned for many traits, Marly noted, and his sense of humor was superb. "He made everybody laugh and chuckle."
Not to mention he was a champion snuggler, she added. "He would come in the door and come in and lay on our bed and rub our backs and play with our hair until we fell asleep. He would do that every night."
The family appreciated the structure Carter applied to his work and child-rearing. "He was Dad. He ran everything like a military camp. He always told us, ‘Back in and know your exits.' And we always did."
The man's love for all children in his family tree is perhaps best demonstrated by a hunting story, Marly noted. "My dad goes elk hunting. He lived for it, you know? Last year he took my nephew hunting, he's 10, and he let him shoot the elk. Quinten got his first elk with Grandpa, even though my dad wanted it so bad."
He remembers that day as an answer to Quinten's prayer, said Tim Giuld. "Robbie was a godly man, even if he never set foot in a church."
Giuld recalled how his friend of several decades bowed his head and listened as the little boy asked God to send game their way. "The next day an elk was 150 yards away. Quinten stepped out of the truck and shot it."
Giuld met Carter one day when he was coming in from work and the plumber was finishing up a job at his house. "We shook hands and we sat down on the planter box and talked for three hours and became very close friends. So close, I would call him my brother."
Indeed, his buddy would grasp his face with work-roughened hands and kiss his cheek upon every meeting, he said with a laugh. "He would tell me that he loved me."
Carter loved the outdoors and "tasting the wind," but was most defined by his devotion to family and his country, Giuld said. "He believed in his America. Rob was a patriot, I would holler at him, ‘Red, white and blue,' and he would say ‘That's right.' In fact, if you worked for Robbie and you didn't vote? You didn't work for Robbie."
His friend valued humility in himself and his family, Giuld added. "Last year he started a deal to collect food for people who are not as fortunate ... he made his children help him go buy the groceries and sack them up and deliver them. No one knew about it ... he wanted his kids to be humble."
As well, when a devastating freeze settled on the Walla Walla Valley in the winter of 2010, Carter thawed and patched enough plumbing to rack up $15,000 worth of invoices, Giuld said. "He only got back about $3,500. And he didn't go out and collect."
Those acts are pages of the Carter Family story, he added. "Rob never wanted to see that legacy die. And it won't. We're going to make sure it doesn't."
While few knew about his friend's relationship with a higher power, Giuld is figuring maybe Carter's death was part of a heavenly plan. "I started thinking about this turn of events. I think maybe Robbie bore so much responsibility in his lifetime that maybe Jesus figured he's done enough."
Carter was unafraid of anything, it seemed, and stood up proud for his morals and beliefs, explained Rick Trumbull, who attended high school with him. As well, his family and the Carters bonded more as they raised young children within a quarter mile of each other for 15 years, Trumbull said.
"We were both workers, We lived to work and we enjoyed that. I think probably he was what I would call a man's man."
Carter was one of the toughest people he's ever met - "mentally, physically, emotionally," he added. "The word ‘quit' was not in his vocabulary."
With laughter, and some tears, Trumbull recounted a few of the intense fights he saw his childhood friend take on. "There was never a cry or a whine or nothing. He never let a whimper out."
In fact, Carter's idea of fun was "some serious roughhousing ... he could drop you to your knees."
Yet the plumber had a tender side and was one of most kindhearted men Trumbull has known, he said.
"The world is a lesser place today."
Carter is survived by his wife and children and brother, Alan Carter. He was preceded in death by his parents and one brother, Cliff Carter.
Funeral arrangements for a Jan. 6 service are pending at Munselle-Rhodes Funeral Home in Milton-Freewater.