As Lynn Carlson retires from Hope Harbor Home, a new leader steps in. 

Lynn Carlson remembers being at a gathering of social workers where one woman, a candidate for judge, said she thought it was ridiculous for domestic abusers to have their guns taken away. Carlson listened but later told the audience that almost 50 women in North Carolina were killed with guns by their abusers that year. 

“The [candidate] was completely unapologetic,” Carlson says. “It was very sad to hear her trivialize [domestic abuse].”

Carlson also heard a male judge from the bench tell a woman she didn’t look like she was sexually assaulted. The victim was so traumatized by the rape she could hardly speak when she testified. “She was holding a notebook in her hand in a business way as if she were talking about someone else,” Carlson says. 

These are some of the things Carlson heard during her 14-year tenure as executive director of Hope Harbor Home, the nonprofit organization in Brunswick County that has assisted victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault since 1986. 

Carlson’s insider’s view comes to an end on October 1, 2019, the day she retires. 

“I look forward to not having so many have-tos, not having so much on a to-do list, just taking it easy,” she says. 

She will continue her current hobbies of baking, cooking, reading and working several crossword puzzles daily, but she also plans to develop new ones. “I want to learn more about opera and brush up on my Shakespeare,” she says. “I don’t mind going where life takes me.”

She and her husband, Eric, who retired as Brunswick County magistrate two years ago, plan to travel, but it’s not tops on their list of activities except to see her son, Patrick, who lives near Asheville. “We both have a type-B approach to travel,” she says. “We don’t mind not having reservations.”

Dick Warner, former Hope Harbor Home board member and president when Carlson was hired, says he admires how much she cares for other people and how persistent she is. 

“She really cares about what she is doing and is persistent about working toward goals,” he says. “The board will terribly miss her leadership.”

Carlson is grateful for not having domestic violence in her background, yet Hope Harbor Home has had a profound effect on forming her viewpoints. She’s worked on being a better listener and learned to underreact instead of overreact. 

“I do a lot of things differently in my life as a result of what I’ve seen here and what happens in people’s lives,” she says. “It gives me pause to be grateful for my own blessings.”

Carlson grew up in Cheraw, South Carolina, and says her parents gave her and her sister, Brenda, a love of learning, a love of books and a love of reading. She graduated from University of South Carolina with a major in journalism and began her career as a reporter for The Brunswick Beacon, which her father bought in 1970 and owned for 35 years. For ten years Carlson was its editor, but later she changed careers and opened Good Spirits restaurant in Hendersonville. “That’s where I learned to deal with people who were difficult and where I learned how to please the public,” she says. After four years, she moved to the Outer Banks and became editor and co-owner of the Outer Banks Current newspaper.

Her experience working with nonprofits began when she was development director of Blue Ridge Community Health Services in Hendersonville and learned to write grants. She has written about 25 grants each year for Hope Harbor Home, which has earned about $3 million for the organization. 

Karmen Smith, who has five years association with Hope Harbor Home, takes over as executive director and says she wants to fill the position and make Carlson proud. 

“Living up to the job she’s done is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life,” Smith says. “She has a fantastic ability to recognize strengths in people and cultivate them.”   

Smith explains how Carlson guided her to decide on goals and helped her achieve them. She hopes in time Carlson can look back and know she left the organization in capable hands.

  1. J. Stephens, who came on the Hope Harbor Home board in 2010 and became its president three years ago, says Carlson stays calm no matter how disastrous a situation is. “She is the glue that holds us together,” Stephens says. “She stays calm and makes everything better.”

Stephens is proud to say the board and staff pulled a coup when they nominated Carlson for the 2019 Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year award without her knowledge. “We pulled it off and she had no clue,” Stephens says. Carlson won the award.

Carlson is modest about her accomplishments and credits others with Hope Harbor Home’s successes. 

“I’ve been blessed with one excellent board after another,” she says. “They are in there finding solutions and teaching us all without being intrusive. That has really contributed to the betterment of the agency.”

Carlson includes the employees in any accomplishments at the nonprofit organization. “They are just very fine people,” she says. “We have very little turnover. I am really most proud of the team that we have assembled here.” 

She also credits the community at large. “We are grateful for the many generous, incredible supporters,” she says. “It’s an embarrassment of riches.”

Despite the agency’s diligence, Carlson says domestic violence has not abated, and attitudes from law enforcement and the justice department are still antiquated. Also, she says, victims are presenting more substance abuse and mental health problems. 

“It makes it really hard to get somebody started on a program of recovery from domestic violence if they have an overarching mental health or substance abuse problem,” she says.

But Carlson looks forward to other horizons. “I feel as I get older the need for more solitude and quiet time, less need for stimulation,” she says. “I treasure more serenity.”


Do you need help? Can you help?

Hope Harbor Home 24-Hour Crisis Hotline: (910) 754-5856 / Hope Harbor Home office: (910) 754-5726 /

Hope Chest Thrift Stores:
2205 Holden Beach Road, Holden Beach, (910) 842-6950
112 Village Road, Leland, (910) 371-0058 
5602 E. Oak Island Drive, Oak Island, (910) 278-7781

Photography by Brent Gallant

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