v25-2 President Jimmy Carter Visits Edgewater

Vol. XXV No. 2 - SUMMER 2014

By: John Holden

Like more than 1,000 other fans and curiosity seekers, I waited in a blocks-long line on March 27 for the chance to meet former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who visited Andersonville’s Swedish American Museum as part of a national tour to promote his new book “A Call to Action” which details the struggle for women’s rights around the world.

Despite the presence of light rain and the threat of severe storms, a festive mood prevailed among members of the crowd who came from far and wide to meet the soon-to-be 90-year-old Carter. While Carter’s term in office draws mixed opinions from many, he is widely regarded as America’s most successful former president in large part because of his tireless human rights work at home and abroad.

He also currently holds the distinction as the president who has lived longer than any other after leaving office – currently 33 years and counting. (For history buffs, Carter garnered that record two years ago from Herbert Hoover, who lived for more than 31 years after being voted out of the White House.)

Although I arrived at 4:30 with two friends for an event that was to start at 6 p.m., there were already about a hundred people in line which we joined just as it wrapped around the corner at Farragut. Within minutes, the line stretched down Farragut reaching close to Glenwood a block to the east.

Immediately behind us was a mother of four young kids who was excited about the chance to meet a U.S. president. As the official event policy allowed only one child per adult, the woman asked if other adults in line would “adopt” her kids for the duration of the event. My charge, 8-year-old Declan, coincidentally turned out to be a friend of one of my godsons. Enterprising hawkers took advantage of the huge crowd and worked the line handing out flyers and coupons for Andersonville’s neighboring shops and restaurants.

I had all kinds of things I wanted to share with Carter, including my admiration for his work, the fact that I had previously met him in 1986 when I was a reporter and share the fact that Hillary Clinton was born just blocks from our current location. Not only had I brought a copy of his new book to sign, but also had a copy of the infamous 1976 issue of Playboy magazine which may have helped propel Carter to the White House. What would that item be worth with Carter’s autograph?

Unfortunately, once we got inside, I realized none of this quality time with Carter was to be. The signing line was the most ruthlessly managed of any I had seen in decades of attending book signings. Carter’s signing table was surrounded by dark-suited Secret Service agents so that only the person directly in front of the table even had a clear view of him. Before getting to the table, an assistant took the books from the autograph hounds so as to facilitate the speed of the process and sternly apologized that nothing else could be signed. I later read that Carter has perfected the art of signing eight books a minute.

When I approached the table, Carter looked up, beamed his famous toothy smile and asked Declan what his name was. Unfortunately, Declan stood frozen like the proverbial deer in the headlights. By the time I blurted out “Declan” on his behalf, we were on our way.

Having posted on my Facebook page that I would be attending the event, several friends surprised me by also turning out, including Cy and Maria Griffith and their three children, who are 8, 11 and 13.

“Given that the line was many blocks long, we knew our time in his presence would be exceedingly brief,” said Cy. “When our moment came, I said, ‘Thank you Mr. President. I had my 18th birthday just in time to vote for you.’ He looked up, smiled and said, ‘You take care of those kids now.’ I replied, ‘You can count on that.’ It was just a short time, but that memory will last with my kids for the rest of their lives.”