The S.B. Questionnaire: Kate Carter

Talking Memories and Family with the Founder and President of LifeChronicles

Kate Carter outside of her Santa Barbara office.

Paul Wellman

Kate Carter outside of her Santa Barbara office.

“Some people feel that what we do is sad or morbid — instead, it’s beautiful,” says Kate Carter, the founder and president of LifeChronicles, which produces legacy videos for the elderly, seriously ill, and others nearing the end of life. “We film families together. Their conversations are recorded and families can use them as a healing tool.”

The memories preserved on film by LifeChronicles capture everything from the sound of a loved one’s laughter to the look in their eyes. “Stories are great, but we learned that sight and sound is important,” Kate explains. “We lead them into meaningful end-of-life conversations, which normally wouldn’t happen on their own.” Before each LifeChronicles shoot, Kate tells each of the families, “In this moment in time, we’re going to share things we wouldn’t otherwise share.”

Over the past few months, LifeChronicles has been doing memorial videos for the victims of last year’s mudslide. “It usually takes a year after the person dies for people to be ready to share,” says Kate. “The first person we did posthumously was one of the victims of 9/11.”

LifeChronicles also partners with Hospice of Santa Barbara and Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, training staff members and volunteers on how to film the life stories of their patients. “They do the filming,” she explains. “We do the post-production and archiving.” LifeChronicles is doing the same work in Charleston, South Carolina.

Kate started the nonprofit in 1988, when her friend, Taeri, was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. Taeri’s husband had died from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) only 15 months before, and their three children were soon to be without parents. “I walked around asking myself, ‘What can I do for her?’” Kate remembers. “I sat Taeri in front of a camera.” The resulting video keeps Taeri’s memory alive for her children to this day.

A couple of days after Taeri died, Kate called Gail Rink from Hospice of Santa Barbara and Thomas Rollerson from the Dream Foundation and told them of her idea. With their support, LifeChronicles was born, and volunteers, especially high school students, were very helpful in its nascent stages.

The original idea was simply to preserve memories, but it has grown into a conduit to bring closure for families and to bring them closer together. As word spread through support groups for people with ALS, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, LifeChronicles also became a means of empowering those who will take care of the sick as they move toward death. “We try to film them in the early stages, for it can be used as a tool for the caregiver,” Kate explains. “They get a better understanding who the patient is.”

No matter the subject, Kate finds that people quickly forget about the camera. “Seniors start to sound younger and sick people become more energized,” she says. The role of Kate and the LifeChronicles volunteers is to surrender to the process and be completely present. “If you help other people your problems don’t seem so bad,” she tells her volunteers. “It takes you out of yourself.”

Kate was born in San Antonio, the oldest of five children. “I left when I was three years old,” she recalls. “I didn’t fit in Texas.” Her family moved to Chicago, where mom was a homemaker and dad worked for the gas company. They then moved to the San Fernando Valley, where Kate attended Reseda High School, graduating in 1970.

She chased her boyfriend to Santa Barbara when she was 19, as her future husband was attending UCSB. “UCSB had just had the riots,” she says. “To this day I’m always willing to march, to stand up and be counted.” She attended Barack Obama’s inauguration as well as Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity.

Kate got a job in data processing and studied communications at Cal State Northridge. She and her husband had a child, who today is 40 years old, but their marriage ended in divorce.

In 1980, she became an executive assistant to the president of Merrill Lynch Realty. That’s how she met Larry Crandell, who became a great mentor. “He’d make fun of your strengths, never your weaknesses,” she says.

In 1982, she met her second husband Russell Carter, who does custom construction and is also a painter and novelist. They have two children and bought a beautiful Dutch Colonial home on Chapala Street in 1986. Kate started a medical transcription business, which allowed her to work from home for 15 years.

For the past 18 years, LifeChronicles has been raising funds by wrapping gifts for donations during the holidays. Volunteers are stationed at Paseo Nuevo every day, noon to 8 p.m., until December 24, and at the Santa Barbara Night Market from 4 to 10 p.m.

Kate Carter answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What do you most value in friends?

Loyalty and I have very loyal friends. I credit most of what I have accomplished in my work to the loyalty and support of friends. And they all have an irreverent, wicked sense of humor!

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

Bullying. I cannot tolerate bullies. I have been known to put myself in harm’s way to confront bullying — can’t help it!

Which talent would you most like to have?

The ability to ask people for donations! For someone running a nonprofit for 20 years, I am the worst!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being with my friends and family talking about film, politics, books, and the nature of the universe, playing games and laughing hysterically.

What do you like most about your job?

I get to have deep, meaningful conversation with someone I don’t know before they leave the planet, knowing that it will give them peace of mind and will be comforting to their family.

What is your greatest fear?

It’s certainly not dying, though the loss of a child would be my greatest fear.

Who do you most admire?

Mother Teresa. Her capacity for love and compassion is so beautiful, and I’m not a Catholic! And the Dalai Lama. I love his sense of humor and his awareness of our true state of being.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Well, it’s not much, but I get my hair blow dried once a week — haven’t washed my own hair for 15 years!

What is your current state of mind?

Disturbed by the state of our nation, but excited about the possibilities ahead.

What is the quality you most like in people?

Kindness.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Friends who have known me most of my life would probably say my persistence. I’m just not a quitter.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Awesome! Cool! I have also acquired a favorite profanity in the past couple of years.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Sometimes I am too trusting. “Fools rush in” comes to mind. My enthusiasm can get the best of my better judgement.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I can’t claim my children, because I know that who they have become is their achievement. However, LifeChronicles still serving families in need all over the country after 20 years is even hard for me to believe!

Where would you most like to live?

Though I long to live closer to my grandchildren, the Oboys, in South Carolina, I have traveled to 323 cities across the U.S., and there is just no more beautiful place to fly back home to than Santa Barbara.

What is your most treasured possession?

My family and friends. I can’t think of a material thing I would be sad to lose. (That’s because I have saved precious video and photos to the cloud, haha!)

Who makes you laugh the most?

My husband makes me laugh every day! He’s a really handsome guy, but it was his humor that reeled me in!

What is your motto?

Life is a banquet, so stand up and be counted!

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Eleanor Roosevelt. I love her courage, her eloquence, and her compassion.

On what occasion do you lie?

I have been known to lie to protect a person’s feelings.