Former heavyweight champ and light heavyweight champ Michael Spinks holds up his boxing trunks, which are part of honoree Lynne Carter’s personal boxing memorabilia collection, as they both stand in front of a photo of Carter with Muhammad Al at Ali’s training camp in Pennsylvania. As a boxing official, Carter fought for equality in a man’s game. (Photo by Albert Lee)

by Len Lear

Lynne Carter’s life could make a heck of a good movie, but audiences would most likely think it was pure fiction. Carter, a 60-ish lifelong resident of Mt. Airy, was honored by Mayor Kenney in a City Hall ceremony on June 19 for being the first woman ever inducted into both the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame and the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.

Two years ago, Carter retired from her day job with the Philadelphia Streets Department after 40 years, including time as a supervisor at the end of her career (she also worked for the city employees union). She has been a judge for almost 800 professional boxing matches, including championship fights involving boldface names like Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones (and Mike Tyson in a non-title fight). She would judge fights at night if they were in the Delaware Valley, and take sick days, vacation days and comp time for the many fights she judged in other parts of the U.S. and foreign countries.

“I can only say, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for my life,’” Carter said in an interview last week. “Boxing has given me a good life. Who would have thought 40 years ago that a girl like me from Mt. Airy who knew absolutely nothing about boxing back then would travel the world and wind up being the first woman in two boxing halls of fame?”

When Carter was a student at Cardinal Dougherty High School and Community College of Philadelphia, boxing never once entered her mind. At the time, however, she had a boyfriend (they are still friends) who loved to go to fights with his brothers at the Arena, 46th and Market streets, and she would tag along.

“To keep myself interested, I would try to pick winners,” Carter recalled. “I had no idea how to score fights. I would just say ‘Soand- so is going to win’ just because that guy was throwing the most punches. The funny thing is that the people I picked to win almost always did win. So my boyfriend said, ‘You should try to get a job as a boxing judge.’”

He was most likely just kidding, but Carter took his advice and visited the State Athletic Commission the next day at Broad and Spring Garden streets, announcing that she wanted to be a boxing judge. (There were no female boxing judges at that time in Pennsylvania.)

Mayor Jim Kenney paid tribute on June 19 to Mt. Airy boxing pioneer Lynne Carter. The city and Carter’s colleagues celebrated the Hall of Fame boxing judge’s career achievements in a recognition ceremony at City Hall. (Photo by Albert Lee)

“What do you know about boxing?” Carter was asked.

“Nothing,” she replied, “but I am good at picking winners.”

Probably just to humor her, Carter was told to go to a nearby boxing gym, watch some fights and then come back. She then proceeded to go to a North Philly gym owned by Joe “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier, former heavyweight boxing champ from 1970 to 1973, and Carter stood out like a daffodil in December. She asked to speak to Frazier, who would not come out to talk to her at first. When an employee said to another one, however, “Tell Joe there’s a pretty girl out here who wants to talk to him,” he came out. (She was in her mid-20s at the time.)

Carter then said to the late Philly boxing legend, “I want to be a boxing judge. I want to be trained by the best, and they tell me you are the best.”

Carter obviously scored a knockout with the flattery.

“Joe trained me. He even got in the ring with me and showed me how to punch. I went to the gym three or four times a week, watched the boxers spar and scored them.”

Eventually, with Joe Frazier’s endorsement, Carter returned to the State Athletic Commission with her newfound knowledge, and they sent her to two fights to be an unofficial scorer (Her judging did not count).

Obviously satisfied with her expertise, however, the commission certified Carter to be an official boxing judge in March of 1982 and sent her out to judge fights all over the area. She was paid $50 a night, although there might be as many as six fights altogether in one night. Eventually, the State Athletic Commission had complete confidence in Carter, sending her to judge fights in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the United Kingdom and South Africa – and in New Jersey, Las Vegas, Texas, Maryland and Arizona. All expenses – airfare, hotel, food, etc. – were paid for by boxing organizations.

“I never wanted to know anything about the fighters beforehand,” said Carter. “I didn’t want that information to influence me. They call me ‘The Square’ because they tell me, ‘Nobody knows where you’re coming from. You just call it the way you see it.’

Mt. Airy‘s Lynne Carter clowns around with International Boxing President Bob Lee, 95, at her June 19 tribute ceremony at City Hall. (Photo by Albert Lee)

“My favorite country is Italy,” Carter said about the best places she has visited during her career. “I love the food, the people, shopping and there’s lots more to see. They are not prejudiced. They gave me roses in the ring for my birthday and threw me a party. I also liked Japan. It’s so modern.”

Who were the most memorable fighters Carter ever met, as boxers and as people?

“The most exciting boxer I ever saw was Mike Tyson. He knocked people out with one punch. Even when I saw him spar, the sparring partners would wear chest protectors because he hit so hard. He is also a really nice person with a heart of gold and much more humble than people might think. Tim Witherspoon is also a very nice guy. He home-schools his daughters. Michael Spinks is nice, quiet and laid-back. When you meet them outside the ring, they are mild-mannered, nice guys. I met Muhammad Ali, who was also a great person.”

According to Carter, the highlight of her career was being honored by the Philadelphia Bar Association in 1984 along with Dr. Helen Dickens, the first African American woman to be admitted to the American College of Surgeons, and Dr. Mae Carol Jemison, the first black female astronaut.

“To be in that company, I was so honored,” Carter said.

Outside of the ring, Carter is the founder and CEO of A Fight for A Cause Foundation, which has raised thousands of dollars for victims of Hurricane Katrina and programming for autism research and after-school initiatives in West Philadelphia.

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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