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On DeShawn Carter and a selfless life

DeShawn Carter
DeShawn Carter

B.J. Schecter is my friend and former Sports Illustrated colleague. We both arrived at the magazine’s headquarters in 1996, where we shared an office and an affection for a woman named DeShawn Mitchell, who went room to room delivering the Time Inc. mail. It would have been easy for someone in DeShawn’s shoes to simply come and go. Lots of offices, lots of parcels, lots of places to be. But she was, truly, a gem—fun, chatty, engaging, warm, loving, concerned. 

Although I ultimately lost touch with DeShawn, then reconnected on Facebook, B.J. formed an unbreakable bond that will survive long beyond her passing on March 30. Hence, I asked him to visit jeffpearlman.com and share his memories of a woman who left far too young.

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“Jay! Jaaaaaaayyyyyyyy!! Where you at?”

The sound of her voice, the bounce in her step, her spunk and personality creates a full picture in my mind and still brings a smile to my face.

When I first took a job at Sports Illustrated and moved to New York City in September 1996, I was thrilled that I had landed my dream job at age 23. I knew the experiences and opportunities ahead of me were going to form who I would become as an adult and a journalist. But I quickly found out it was the people I was about to meet that would play a far bigger role in my life than any assignment, byline or road trip.

In the fall of 1996, SI was the pinnacle of sports media. The halls on the 18th floor of the Time and Life building were filled with so much talent and intelligence it was both exhilarating and intimidating at the same time. The reporters group at SI (some 25 strong back then) were young twentysomethings responsible for doing the grunt work of fact checking and assisting writers and editors. Dubbed the bullpen it was a fun place to be and many of those in that group have gone on to star-studded careers.

DeShawn (Mitchell) Carter wasn’t a member of the bullpen, but she came through it every day, delivering mail, a joke, a story and some good cheer to everyone who came in her path. She always had a smile on her face and was filled with confidence and an attitude that she owned those halls. She did. I was immediately drawn to her and we became fast friends. I called her Dee and she called me Jay.

We couldn’t be more different, but we just clicked. Soon she was stopping by my office every day for an extended chat or an invitation to go to lunch. I found out that she was a single mother from the Bronx trying to make ends meet and was going back to school so she could get a better job. She worked hard, never complained and was as stubborn as she was smart.

She also had a bad case of Sickle Cell Anemia, which caused her to be hospitalized several times a year. Like everything else, she took the disease in stride and never complained. Dee was a fighter and every time I’d visit her in the hospital she was yelling at a doctor or a nurse to demand they do something the way she expected. That was Dee.

Over the years after she left SI/Time Inc. we kept in touch, and even though we didn’t see or talk to one another that often I always called her on her birthday, March 5. (One year I forgot to call and she gave me an earful; I made sure never to make that mistake again.) When I called last month to wish her a happy birthday her health was failing and she had been in the hospital for a long time. We had a lovely conversation and she was upbeat as always even though she was on a dialysis machine and I could hear beeping in the background.

Before she hung up she said “I love you” and must have known it might be the last time we would speak. A few weeks later, she sent me a text the day after my birthday. It read:

 “I am really sorry I missed your birthday. I’m still in the hospital and sleeping a lot. My sleeping caused me to miss wishing you a happy birthday. I had to send those gifs to make up for missing them on your bday. I hope you had a wonderful day. May you have many more to come. Love ❣you.”

That was Dee. Here is this poor woman suffering in the hospital and she’s feeling bad about missing my birthday.

The are some people in this world with whom you share an instant bond and connect with immediately. That was Dee and me. Few people understood the special connection we had, but it didn’t matter because we did.

Dee was a wonderful person, friend and mother. She put others first and never let the difficult cards she was dealt harden her or take away the wonderful gifts she was given.

Dee will always hold a special place in my heart. I will miss her dearly, but I am thankful she was put in my path and is no longer suffering.

Rest in peace, my dear Dee. You were one-of-a-kind and your sassy, spunky, take-no-sh— attitude will stay with me forever …

4 replies on “On DeShawn Carter and a selfless life”

On the behalf of my family and I, I would like to extend my greatest gratitude to you. Reading your blog, allowed me to envision the women you came to know, my mother. She was so strong and will driven. At the time she started SI/TI, she was a single mother of two. When going through her papers, I found an old pay-stub, that immediately brought me to tears. I always wondered how she did it. A single women, of two, battling a horrible fight with Sickle Cell, and making ends meet off of her salary. Growing up, my brother and I never knew what difficult times were, because my mother was that much of a provider for us. She always put us and our happiness first. Education was most important, so she ensured that we went to the best schools. I can’t even imagine the struggle she went through paying my monthly tuition, at a higher rate because we were not Catholic. As much as it saddens me that she is gone, I am truly happy for her because she suffers no more.

You will truly be missed Ms. Sassy Carter. I love you deeply.

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What an awesome beautiful and fittign tribute to my life long friend and Sistagurl. Thank you for this. She is truly missed, I love you Sistagurl.

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Thanks Jeff and Jay! I can tell Dee was a wonderful, hard working mother, and a dedicated friend. This story made my day.

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