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RT+ goes in-depth with Lillian Carter
for the Sequim Gazette
Reader’s Theatre Plus is taking audience members back to the early 1980s, shortly after President Jimmy Carter’s presidency and before the death of his mother Lillian Carter, in the upcoming reading of “Lilly.”
As Lillian Carter in her golden years, Carol Swarbrick Dries talks about her life, flirtation with and marriage to Earl Carter, her family, and of course, the presidency of her son — who once described his mother as “a remarkable woman.”
Proceeds from the two readings — March 28 and March 30 — will go toward scholarships for graduating seniors with an interest in theater at Sequim and Port Angeles high schools.
“Not only is this an up-close and personal look at a fascinating woman but it is a lesson in U.S. and world history,” said Dries, leading lady in the one-woman show. “No matter what your politics are, she lived through them in a unique way.”
After the two peninsula readings, Dries and playwright Richard Broadhurst plan to adjust the script and submit it to a Seattle theater for a possible reading in the city. After that, they’ve discussed hitting the road for a four-week run in Los Angeles or maybe multiple weekend performances at various colleges.
Dries approached Broadhurst — a professional actor and writer — about developing a script specifically for her. After he agreed, a number of historical women were considered for the project but it was Lillian Carter who stood out in Dries’ mind.
“Other characters were suggested but it was like, ‘What does it matter if we know more about her?’” Dries said. “With Lillian Carter, it matters.”
While Dries has played many roles on screens and stages all over the country, “Lilly” is a new experience for her.
“It’s so different from anything I’ve ever done but I’m having fun getting to know Lillian Carter,” she said. “The more I get to know about Lillian Carter, the more I like her. She was certainly human, not a saint, and she was married to and in love with a man who wasn’t a saint either.”
Lillian Carter met businessman James Earl Carter and married him immediately after her graduation. The couple had four children, Jimmy being the eldest.
Lillian Carter was active in civil rights and was considered a forerunner in the South, accepting African Americans as equals. She also is known for her contribution to nursing in her home state of Georgia, as a Peace Corps volunteer — she joined at the age of 68!—and for writing two books during the Carter presidency.
Though her family initially disapproved of her career in nursing, Lillian Carter continued her training without their approval and became very successful, earning the respect of both the black and white communities. “Miss Lillian,” as she often was called, allowed black people to enter her home through the front door rather than the back door as was the social norm and often would have them in
her living room for casual conversation, just as she would a white neighbor. This was unheard of at the time.
“She’s just a great character who spoke her mind,” Dries said. “This is an amazing woman who most people just don’t know enough about.”
Catering to the “Plus” side of Reader’s Theatre, a special question and answer session will take place with Broadhurst following the 90-minute show March 28.
“Your comments have the potential to affect the future of the show,” Dries said.