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A pioneer in ensuring rural telephone access, Claude “Carson” Gilmer passes at 95

Claude Gilmer led a remarkable life, but he helped connect rural Texas to the world through his work at Rocksprings Telephone.

Claude Carson Gilmer, age 95, passed from this life on February 13, 2023 in Kerrville, Texas. He was born in Rocksprings, Texas to Claud Henry Gilmer and Georgia Ruth Carson Gilmer on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1927. He married Bobbie Rene (Roberts) Gilmer on July 29, 1952 in Plainview, Texas. Bobbie preceded him in death on February 10, 1991. On June 23, 1993 he married Gayla Dianne (Zettner) Gilmer in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas. Dianne preceded him in death on February 14, 2012.

Carson started school in Rocksprings, later attending San Marcos Baptist Academy and then Tivy High School in Kerrville, where he graduated in 1945. He graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1951, after which he joined the United States Army.

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The Army did not accept his given name (Claud) so they added an ”e” to the end, after which he continued to use ”Claude” on official documents while going by his middle name, Carson. After attending Officer Candidate School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Corp of Engineers and served in Korea during the Korean War.


Returning home in 1953, he took charge of Rocksprings Telephone Company, which had been founded by his grandfather, Street Gilmer, in 1898. He immediately began modernizing facilities and acquiring new telephone exchanges. As a Registered Professional Engineer, he grew the company that became Southwest Texas Communications. In 1962 he started Utilities Data Processing, Inc. which was a service bureau that provided billing for local telephone companies in Texas and eventually in other states around the nation.

Claude Gilmer
Claude Gilmer

Carson was a member of First Baptist Church of Rocksprings where he served as a deacon. He belonged to the Rocksprings Masonic Lodge over 70 years. He served as a member and later as President of the Rocksprings School Board when the old limestone block school building was replaced by the buildings that are still in use today. As a teenager in Kerrville in the mid-1940s, Carson learned to fly airplanes. Over his lifetime he held a Commercial Pilot’s license with Airline Transport Pilot, Multi-Engine, Instrument, and Glider Ratings. He competed in regional and national sailplane contests, won several regional contests and placed as high as third in the nationals. He also held a number of state and national sailplane records for many years, including the record for the longest glider flight totally within Texas, 503 miles from San Marcos to Dalhart. He was a gifted musician and played clarinet and saxophone at Tivy and at Texas Tech, where he also played in a number of dance bands.

In retirement he planted a pecan orchard and harvested, processed and sold pecans for many years. He supported local charities in Rocksprings, and was the original donor for the Claud H. Gilmer Memorial Library, dedicated to his father. In recent years he helped to establish and maintain the Edwards County Senior Activity Center in Rocksprings.

Carson was preceded in death by his first wife, Bobbie Rene Gilmer, and his second wife, Gayla Dianne Gilmer, his sister Norma Jean Gilmer Babb and her husband, Jackson L. Babb, his sister-in-law Melba Jo Roberts Willis and her husband, Don Willis, and his sister-in-law Frances Roberts Estill and her husband, Dale Estill.

He is survived by his three children and their spouses, Gay Ann Gilmer Turville and her husband, Dean Turville, Gary Carson Gilmer and his wife, Gwen Hatley Gilmer, and Claud Harmon Gilmer and his wife, Tracy Funk Gilmer. He is survived by his grandchildren and their spouses, Shirley Christine Retter Winterbotham and her husband, Glyn Winterbotham, Daphne Rene Retter and her husband, Patrick Yoest, Sunny Claire Gilmer Fuller and her husband, Matthew Fuller, and Robin Kelly Gilmer Ray and her husband, Justin Ray. He is survived by his great grandchildren, August Retter Yoest, Ella Reese Winterbotham, Clara Retter Yoest, Carson Jon Winterbotham, Vallen Rose Ray, Wynn Violet Ray, and Scarlett Madelyn Fuller. He is also survived by his step-sons, Scott Zettner (Peggy), Steve Zettner (Monica) and Brian Zettner (Tracy), and their children and grandchildren. Finally, he is survived by his dear friend and traveling companion, Pat Jackson.

Funeral services will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 18, 2023 at the First Baptist Church of Rocksprings, Texas.

Memorials may be sent to The Gilmer Foundation, Inc., P. O. Box 966, Rocksprings, TX, 78880.


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