“People assume a foster child has had a very horrible life,” said Carol Carlan. “That’s not the case for me. I don’t look at it as being sad.”
Before Carol Carlan was the first female regional bank president in the panhandle and CEO of Carlan Consulting, she was a little girl living on a farm with her parents and four siblings. When her mother left the family for another man, her father gave three of his children to the Department of Children and Families. He wanted a better life for his children and felt he couldn’t provide that.
Carlan was living with her aunt and uncle before she was taken into state custody. She credits them as “making me the person I am today.” Her aunt, she said, was like a mother to her.
“They wanted to adopt me,” Carlan said.
Carlan was three-years-old when she entered foster care. She lived with six different families by the time she was 18. Only sometimes was she was placed with her siblings. Her father rented a room at a boarding house and sent every extra penny to DCF.
“My father was always a part of my life,” Carlan said.
Although the thought of leaving your family behind for six different sets of strangers sounds lonely, Carlan credits each family, her friends, and other mentors she had along the way as teaching her valuable life lessons.
“I was loved by many people,” Carlan said. “I saw the good in so many people. I’m really eager to give back to those individuals.”
Carlan graduated from Fort Walton Beach High School. She sang in the select choir and was president of the school band, where she also played clarinet. Carlan earned money either waitressing in Destin or working at the Book Nook in Fort Walton Beach; the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Martin, kept her on staff throughout her high school career and even promoted her to manager.
Carlan received a clarinet scholarship to Pensacola State College (at the time it was Pensacola Junior College). It was then that she fell in love with the city of Pensacola.
“I remember driving on the three-mile bridge with my windows down,” Carlan said as her eyes welled with tears. “I thought, ‘I have my whole future here. This is awesome.’”
Thinking back to her freshman college days makes her think about foster kids today and the challenges they have to face alone.
“That’s the part that I feel for the kids,” Carlan said. “Some of these kids lose their way. Me, I’ve always been a planner and I visualized having a great future, but some kids can’t see past where they are.”
Carlan does not have any children, but has four grandkids through her marriage with her husband Charles.
“There are some things you would never let kids do by themselves,” Carlan said.
In school, Carlan knew she wanted to work with money. She excelled at math.
“I always loved money,” Carlan said laughing. “I just didn’t have any.”
Just two weeks before her final exams, Carlan’s father passed away. She was fortunate to have spent Easter weekend with him, where he told her the whole story about her mother.
“One thing he left me with was to always be nice to others,” Carlan said.
Carlan’s time at PSC left a lasting impression with her. She has served as a trustee to the school since 1999.
Education is a priority for Carlan. She is a founding member of PACE Center for Girls, which gives girls the chance of a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy. According to the web site, 60 percent of the girls in the program live in areas with higher than average crime rates and 19 percent have reported physical or sexual abuse prior to their involvement with PACE.
“Some of these girls have been through horrific situations,” Carlan said. “I know in order to help them get beyond that we have to provide a place for them to be educated.”
Carlan’s professional history is pretty well-known. Like her personal life, she worked hard at each task given to her until she was West Panhandle President of Wachovia. In 2006 she decided to retire to start her consulting firm. Now, she’s the hardest-working retired women in the area.
“I wanted to show people how to bring out the best in who they are,” Carlan said.
Carlan did meet with her mother as an adult. It was 15 years ago. Carlan was 42.
“It was surreal,” Carlan said. “I was like ‘What do you say?’ She was apologetic, but there’s no animosity. I’ve had a wonderful life. There’s nothing I regret.”
Carlan has been named one of the Panhandle’s Top Five Most Powerful Women by the St. Petersburg Times, as well as being one-half of a power couple, with Charles, as noted by Pensacola Business Journal. However, it’s her work within the community she is most proud of.
“I will spend the rest of my life using my experiences to help others have the best life they can have,” Carlan said. “You can turn a negative into a positive.”
And it is her experiences that have made her the inspiration she is today.
“I was raised by a lot of great people,” Carlan said. “I have great memories. I understand each of us is extraordinary in our own way and it’s because of our experiences.”