Former president Carter (Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope, 2007, etc.) affectionately remembers his mother, the redoubtable Miss Lillian.
When he was governor of Georgia, Carter visited her at the family home in Plains. “Mama,” he confided, “I’ve decided to run for president.” “President of what?” she wanted to know. On reflection, she admitted, “Well I was pleased. I figured that if he was elected president, someone would open a good restaurant in Plains.” Blunt without malice and disarmingly unfettered, Lillian Carter was a powerful force, remembered here by her son with not only fondness, but great respect for her role as an agent for good. She shared whatever fortune she had without making a big deal of it; knew a bum when she saw one (Joseph McCarthy, for instance, and not the tramps who knocked on her farmhouse door during the Depression); and “just ignored the pervasive restraints of racial segregation.” When her husband died in 1953, the author noted that she “seemed to be searching for whatever was provocative, adventurous, challenging, and gratifying.” Thus she spent eight years as a housemother to a rowdy Auburn University frat, lent her nursing talents to the Peace Corps for two years in a small village in India and became her son’s goodwill ambassador. While she tirelessly campaigned for her son and served as the face of his administration on countless occasions, mostly state funerals, she also took care of herself, tuning out the world when her chosen soap opera aired and enjoying a strong toddy in the late afternoon. The author isn’t shy to note that Miss Lillian could be high maintenance—“She was quite harsh in her criticism when any of us failed to make a regular pilgrimage to pay our respects”—but Carter makes it clear that she passed on her unvarnished decency and sense of fair play to her son.
A low-key, well-balanced tribute.