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Charles Conrad Carter ’46

September 17, 2018, in Portland.

In high school, Conrad spent his summers washing dishes at a Washington camp where Reed Prof. Harold Sproul [music 1938–43] taught folk music to campers. Conrad dreamed of becoming a doctor and shared a tent with a Reed student, Charles Edward Carter ’41 (no relation), who had just been accepted into a prestigious medical school back East. Conrad was impressed that the medical school would be interested in a student from faraway Reed.

After graduating from high school, he went to Alaska to fish for the summer. Though he wanted to be a doctor, he hadn’t applied to any college. “In those days, he said, “the idea was that you had to be pretty brainy to get into medical school, and I wasn’t really terribly impressed with my academic capabilities.” He conferred with his friend John Siemens ’46, who planned to go to Reed. John volunteered to call Reed’s admission office, and arrangements were made for Conrad to take the entrance examination with one of his high school teachers.

“Looking back on it,” he ruminated, “I think that Reed and all the other colleges were concerned about the lack of a student body. The males were all going off to war. Reed probably assumed that I’d be going to war before the year was over, in the first place, and in the second place, they had the room.”

At Reed, Conrad played football on what he joked was the only football team in the country that would have him. They were not in a league, but the coach would arrange for games with Pacific College (now George Fox University), the University of Portland, and the Oregon College of Education in Monmouth. The female students at Reed—dressed in bobby socks and saddle shoes with ribbons in their hair—reminded Conrad of high school. But unlike high school, the academics were demanding.

“In those days,” he recalled, “there was a mixing of age groups in the dorms. The older students were used to studying or they wouldn’t be where they were; so there was no fooling around after dinner. You kept quiet or the big boys would come after you and see to it that you kept quiet. I began to study very hard, on Saturday mornings and all day on Sunday. I developed this self-control and was able to deny some of those enjoyments that I had when I was in high school for the sake of making it.”

Students who weren’t succeeding academically would get a white slip in their mailbox, and it was always a time of tension when the white slips came out.

“I never had a white slip,” Conrad said. “It’s interesting that there were four of us from my high school who started Reed together. The other three had been on the Honor Society, but I was the only one of the four who graduated from Reed. I think that the other three were very dependent upon positive feedback for their academic commitment—their teachers, their parents. At Reed, you didn’t get academic feedback. Teachers weren’t patting you on the back, because if you did very well you were expected to do very well.” 

As the war progressed, fewer and fewer males were left on campus. Conrad joined the navy air force, but he wore glasses and didn’t pass the physical. The army encouraged him to enlist; they wanted educated officers, would let him finish his education, and enlisting would keep him free of the draft board. Six months later, the army started calling people up from this enlisted reserve corps.

“It kind of went by your academic major,” Conrad remembered. “The sociologists, literature majors, psychologists and so forth all went first. The last to go were the physics majors and the premed students. Then the physics majors were called. Prof. Frank Hurley [chemistry 1942–51], the dean of men, had great foresight. He went to the University of Oregon Medical School here in Portland and convinced them to admit the 8 to 12 Reed premed students.”

Those students began classes at the medical school in the fall of 1942. Two weeks later, those premed students who weren’t admitted were called into active service. Premed students were required to take summer classes for two years and at the end of the second summer, they started medical school. In the end, Conrad went to Reed for 24 months, the equivalent of three years. He was eligible for a bachelor’s degree after the satisfactory completion of two years of graduate school, and medical school was considered a graduate school. Consequently, Conrad never wrote a senior thesis, which he regretted. At medical school he roomed with his buddy, John Siemens.

Conrad did a residency in psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. But after a year there, he decided he didn’t want to practice psychiatry the rest of his life. 

“I had this great education at Reed in the sciences,” he said, “and this great education in medical school, and the way psychiatry was expected to be practiced in those days, you just talked to people. You didn’t even examine them.”

He returned to Portland and was hired to examine patients for a doctor. The Korean War was being fought, and any doctor who had not served 24 months of active duty in the service was subject to the draft. Conrad had not been in the service, felt guilty about it, and thought it would be a great adventure. He enlisted in the air force. While he was waiting to be called up, he went to work for a doctor who helped him become a neurologist. By the time he began serving in the air force, he knew more about neurology than any other doctor on the base, ,and in the 24 months he was in the service, he did a lot of neurology. 

The doctor he had worked with in Portland decided to write a book on a part of the brain called the cerebellum, and he wanted Conrad to take over his practice.

“There were other doctors in the office,” Conrad explained, “a neurosurgeon and another neurologist. I did a lot of examinations for the neurosurgeon. I’d examine the patient and then I’d present the workout to him. So here I had another year of neurology, and I decided I wanted to go take a residency.”

He completed a residency in neurology at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis in 1956.

“I’m very appreciative of what Reed did for me,” Conrad said. “Reed’s reputation was a surprise to me. When I went to Washington University for my specialty training, everybody seemed to know that I had gone to Reed. Evidently its reputation gave me a little bit of a place in society back there. In fact, medical school was easy after Reed. At Reed, you couldn’t get by just by passing examinations. They knew what you were doing because you were in groups of eight or ten, two or three times a week. You could not get through with just rote memorization. In medical school, you could.”

From there, he taught and practiced neurology at the University of Oregon Medical School in Portland. Though he sometimes worked in private practice, Conrad’s career included being a clinical professor at the OHSU department of neurology and chief of neurology at the Veterans Administration hospital in Roseburg, Oregon.

In addition to football, fishing, and mountain climbing, his interests included skiing, camping, and backpacking. His wife, Marylu, and a son, John, predeceased him. Conrad is survived by his sons, Charles Conrad Carter Jr., Christopher Carter, and Ronald Carter.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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