Lillian Gordy Carter
Lillian Gordy Carter
Lillian Carter, 1979
Bessie Lillian Gordy
August 15, 1898
|Died||October 30, 1983 (aged 85)|
Americus, Georgia, U.S.
(m. 1923; died 1953)
|Children||Jimmy, Gloria, Ruth and Billy|
|Parent(s)||James Jackson Gordy |
Mary Ida Nicholson Gordy
Bessie Lillian Gordy Carter (August 15, 1898 – October 30, 1983) was the mother of former president of the United States Jimmy Carter. She was also known for her contributions to nursing in her home state of Georgia and as a Peace Corps volunteer in India as well as writing two books during the Carter presidency.
Nurse and mother
Carter was born Bessie Lillian Gordy on August 15, 1898 in Richland, Georgia, to James Jackson Gordy (1863–1948) and Mary Ida Nicholson Gordy (1871–1951). She was the niece of Berry Gordy I, who was the paternal half-brother of James Jackson Gordy and the grandfather of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. She volunteered to serve as a nurse with the U.S. Army in 1917 but the program was cancelled. Instead, she worked for the US Post Office at Richland before moving to Plains, Georgia in 1920 where she was accepted as a trainee at the Wise Sanitarium before completing her nursing degree at the Grady Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Atlanta, Georgia in 1923. Lillian's family initially disapproved of her choice of a career in nursing, but she continued her training and became very successful, earning the respect of both the black and white communities. "Miss Lillian," as she was often known, allowed black people to enter her home through the front door, rather than through the back door as was the social norm, and would often have them in her living room for casual conversation just as she would a white neighbor. These conversations would even continue after her husband Earl was to arrive home expecting the guests to depart.
Lillian Carter said that the strongest influence on her liberal views was her father. James Jackson Gordy, "Jim Jack" operated a Post Office in Lillian's hometown of Richland and was always cordial and often dined with the black workers. This was very unusual in the early 20th century but Lillian decided that she would follow her father's example.
She met businessman James Earl Carter and married him immediately after her graduation. The couple had four children: Jimmy (born in 1924), Gloria (1926–1990), Ruth (1929–1983), and Billy (1937–1988). While she theoretically retired from nursing in 1925, in reality she worked as what was then called a nurse practitioner both for the hundreds of employees back in her husband's businesses and for the members of Plains community. While a religious woman, Carter was not a regular attender of church services. After some sisters at the local church organized a mission trip to Africa, Carter became upset saying that there was plenty to be done in the US before traveling to another country. She coordinated her own Bible study at home on Sunday mornings while the rest of the family attended church.
After the death of her husband from pancreatic cancer, Lillian Carter left for Auburn University where she worked for several years as a dormitory housemother. A year after completing her service at Auburn, Carter managed a nursing home in Blakely, Georgia.
Peace Corps volunteer
In 1966, at the age of 68, Carter applied for the Peace Corps. After completing a psychiatric evaluation, she received three months of training and was sent to India where she worked at the Godrej Colony 30 miles (48 km) from Mumbai. Lillian worked in the Godrej Colony for 21 months, during which she aided patients afflicted by leprosy. Emory University established the Lillian Carter Center for International Nursing in honor of the work she did in India. The Atlanta Regional Office of the Peace Corps has named an award in her honor for volunteers over 50 who make the biggest contribution.
When Jimmy Carter decided to run for president, his mother was one of the first people he told. He was initially regarded as a dark horse candidate for the Democratic Party nomination.
Lillian Carter was well known as "Miss Lillian" and she published two books during his presidency: Miss Lillian and Friends and Away from Home: Letters to my Family, both published in 1977. The latter book was a collection of letters to her family sent when she was in India for the Peace Corps.
"Miss Lillian" was a favorite of the press for her Southern charm and down-to-earth manner. For reporters and interrogators alike, she always had a warm, sassy response for every question. One biographer recalls a story about an encounter between Carter and a reporter from New York who flew to Plains to meet her during her son's 1976 campaign to become the U.S. president: "Miss Lillian greeted her, and said 'Welcome to Plains! It's so nice to see you! Would you like some lemonade? How was your journey? Your dress is beautiful'; pouring out the Southern hospitality. And the reporter jumped right in on Miss Lillian and said 'Now Miss Lillian, your son's running for president and said he'll never tell a lie now, as a mother, are you telling me he's never told a lie?' And she goes 'oh, Jimmy tells white lies all the time!' the reporter said 'Tell me what you mean: what is a 'white lie'" And Miss Lillian said 'Remember when I said "Welcome to Plains and how good it is to see you. That's a white lie'"
When son Billy's beer business had its ribbon-cutting ceremony, a friend questioned Carter on whether or not she would attend. She remarked: "I attended Jimmy's inauguration didn't I?"
Final years and death
Shortly after her eldest son left office in January 1981, Carter was diagnosed with breast cancer. While her cancer was in remission in April 1983, her younger daughter, Ruth Stapleton, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died on September 26, 1983, at 54. Carter herself succumbed to breast, bone and pancreatic cancers a month later on October 30, 1983, at age 85 in Americus, Georgia. Her three surviving children were by her side at her death. Carter was buried in a simple six-minute ceremony at Lebanon Church Cemetery, on November 1, 1983, next to her husband, who died 30 years before her.
In addition to her husband, three of her children, Gloria Carter Spann, Billy Carter, and Ruth Carter Stapleton, also died from pancreatic cancer. The former president was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, at the age of 90. In 2010, he had a severe stomach ache which was mistaken as that disease. He has been a fund-raiser and booster for research into a cure for the disease.
In 2001, a major nursing center was dedicated in her honor in Plains by Jimmy Carter in recognition of her first years of service to the community as a nurse. In 2011 she was inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement.
- "Family relationship of Jimmy Carter and Berry Gordy via James Thomas Gordy".
- "Awards: Lillian Carter Award". The Peace Corps. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
The Lillian Carter Award was established in 1986 in honor of former President Carter's mother, who served as a health Volunteer in India in 1966 at age 68.
- "Washington, D.C. Resident Eileen Blumenthal Honored with Peace Corps' Lillian Carter Award". The Peace Corps. May 18, 2005. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
The Lillian Carter Award was established by the Atlanta Regional Office of the Peace Corps in 1986.
- "WGBH American Experience - Jimmy Carter - PBS". American Experience. PBS. 58:30 into the video (alternate link). Retrieved 2016-04-09.
- "Bush Blasts Carter For Not Attending Tito Funeral". Lakeland Ledger. May 9, 1980.
- Charlotte Evans (October 31, 1983). "Lillian Carter is Dead at 85; Mother of 39th President". The New York Times.
- "Statement from Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter". August 12, 2015.
- Lillian Carter with Gloria Carter Spann, Away From Home: Letters to My Family Simon & Schuster New York 1977 ISBN 0-671-22683-5
- Lillian Carter as told to Beth Tartan and Rudy Hayes Miss Lillian and Friends: the Plains, Georgia Family Philosophy and Recipe Book A&W Publishers 1977 ISBN 0-89104-074-9
- Jimmy Carter, An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood Simon & Schuster, London ISBN 0-7432-1199-5
- Jimmy Carter, A Remarkable Mother Simon & Schuster, New York 2008 ISBN 1-4165-6245-1
- Jimmy Carter, Always a Reckoning, and Other Poems Times Books, New York 1995 ISBN 0-8129-2434-7 was dedicated in his mother's honor and contains a poem about her.
- Grant Hayter-Menzies, Lillian Carter: A Compassionate Life McFarland & Company, Jefferson NC 2014 ISBN 978-0-7864-9719-5
- Robert Buccellato, Jimmy Carter in Plains: The Presidential Hometown Arcadia Publishing, South Carolina 2016 ISBN 978-1467115414
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lillian Carter.|
- 1930 Census of Sumter County, Georgia (at Ancestry.Com showing : "Earl Carter 35 b GA, owns home, married first at 29, Farmer; Lillian 31 b GA, married first at 25; Jim E 5 b GA; Gloria 3 4/12 b GA; Ruth 4/12 b GA"
- Our Georgia History profile of Lillian Carter
- Peace Corps Online article on Carter's contribution to the Peace Corps