Leila S. Case — 1976: vivid memory of history in the making

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2016

With all the hoopla in the current presidential race and state primaries occurring almost weekly, it brings to mind another time — 40 years ago — of an experience I’ll never forget.
I was among the hundreds of jubilant supporters packed into the large hotel ballroom in Manchester, New Hampshire, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Jimmy Carter, who moments before was proclaimed the winner of that state’s 1976 presidential primary election.
The atmosphere was electrifying; the crowd was chanting, “We’re number one. We’re number one.” Then suddenly Carter, displaying the V sign for victory, appeared on the stage, his family close behind.
I was anxious to reach him for a comment. Not the time to be shy, I thought, but too polite to push through the exuberant crowd standing shoulder-to-shoulder. I began to maneuver toward the stage, notebook in one hand and camera in the other, attempting not to bump folks. Before I reached the man of the hour though I bumped into his wife Rosalynn Carter, who was all smiles.
The only thing I could think to ask her at the time was really kind of dumb — the answer was so obvious and not the question I intended for the former Georgia governor.
“Mrs. Carter, what does the New Hampshire win mean?”
“We’re on the way to the White House,” she replied, with a broad smile.
Indeed they were. And so it began in earnest. The next nine months led up to the general election in November when Carter claimed the White House as the 39th president of the United States.
I was in the midst of history being made. However, I didn’t think of the reality or its significance at the time. I was just so thrilled to be a part of it all.
A week before the New Hampshire primary, I joined Americus residents John and Betty Pope, Lang Sheffield, Marion Dasher, Frances Robinson (now Ambrose), Jutta Schiffer (Rotary Exchange student at GSW), Pete and Dot Godwin of Plains and more than 50 other Georgians dubbed “Georgians for Carter” — subsequently known as the “Peanut Brigade” for six days of door-to-door campaigning for Carter. A staff writer for the Americus-Times Recorder, I was on the phone early every morning filing my story with Rudy Hayes, then managing editor.
On our charter flight from Atlanta to Manchester, Carter’s campaign staff briefed us, made designated assignments, and distributed wool green and white (Carter campaign colors) toboggan caps inscribed with “Carter for President” that came in handy in the cold and frigid days ahead. The hour was late when our plane touched down and we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by Carter, who thanked everyone for supporting him.
Marion Dasher and I were assigned to target voters in the coastal city of Portsmouth for a few days while others campaigned in Nashua, Manchester and Concord. We encountered cold, frigid days, knocking on doors. One morning a lady invited me into her home for hot tea. The invitation was most welcome. A couple of days I was up before dawn like many others including Carter’s sons, Chip Carter his first wife Caron Griffin Carter, and Jack Carter and his wife, to greet factory workers during the early morning shift change.
Our group reconnected on Election Day and assembled at the hotel for what was to be Carter’s second presidential primary victory. For me it was an unforgettable experience to be a part of that determined group and witness history being made.
Out and about: It was a rockin’ good time at “The McCartney Years” performance at the Rylander Theatre last week and nice to see many new faces and old friends, including Bernard Womack and Keelan Barkley, Sally Markette with daughters Anne Markette and Beth and John Fowler, Mike Saliba, Kent Sole, Shirley Litwhiler, Dave and Kathleen Tucker, Dr. Ben and Michelle Andrews and sitting in front of us was WALB-TV newscaster Jim Wallace and his wife, who enjoyed the show. Space doesn’t allow me to name everyone, but so glad Americus turned out for the over-the-top performance of this talented troupe of musicians. Bring ‘em back for an encore appearance, Heather Stanley. It was a treat for Sue Hall and me to join Beth Alston and Carol Norton for their birthday lunch at ‘Lil Brothers Bistro. While there, I encountered Athens friends Ellen Creagh and Betty Adams, guests of Betty and George Ellis as well as former resident Harriett Bates of Hickory, N.C. She and her husband John Bates were here for a conference at GSW. While we kept the home fires warm this week, Lori and Andy Shivers island hopped on a Carnival cruise, and Mark and Anne Barrett relaxed at Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Those on the mend list following surgery are former resident Fr. Reginald Gunn of Tiger, Georgia, and Jean Bowen. Leap year twins Kinne and Amelia Kinnebrew turned eight and celebrated on the actual day that rolls around every four years at a family supper at Roman Oven. And welcome Joni Woolf home from a super trip to Malibu, California.

Leila Sisson Case lives in Americus.