I had a good feeling about future president Jimmy Carter all along

Published 6:23 pm Friday, February 14, 2014

President Carter’s visit to Bainbridge State College this Tuesday reminds me of a visit I had with him in 1976 when he was first campaigning for President.
Known little outside the state of Georgia, he became referred to early on as “Jimmy Who?” until his campaign began to gain momentum.
In 1976, I was managing editor of the daily newspaper, The Ledger, in Lakeland, Fla. One Friday evening as I was preparing to conclude my long day and go home, looking forward to a drink and a meal to end a tiring day, my desk phone rang.  The receptionist said, “Governor Carter is here to see you.”
Not getting overly excited, I asked, “What does he want?”
“He wants to speak to a reporter,” she said.
“All right,” I said.  “Just a minute.”
I looked around the newsroom for a suspect reporter on which to unload Mr. Carter, but the room was deserted. Everyone was gone for the day.
So I went to the lobby, introduced myself, and guided Mr. Carter and a few supporters to the Publisher’s conference room.  For the next hour, we had a stimulating conversation, discussing issues facing our country, and how he planned to govern.
To my surprise, I learned that this peanut farmer from Plains had been a graduate of Annapolis and a naval officer and engineer involved in nuclear driven submarines.
I learned many other things about him to come away extremely impressed with his background and qualifications.
After writing a news story about our visit, I went home, still thinking about the grasp of knowledge he had of issues concerning our country.
The Ledger was part of a chain of Florida newspapers owned by The New York Times — The Gainesville Sun, among others.  The biggies in New York liked to organized excursions in January to “check out” the southern newspapers in their chain.  Naturally, coming from the winters of New York City,  spending  the month of January in Florida was an easy and ideal corporate decision.
And so they came – Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzburger among them, some vice presidents, a few    editors plus  Scotty Reston,  one of the Times premier political columnists.   We were all  out to dinner one evening at the Yacht Club in Lakeland, when after the dishes were cleared, someone suggested we go around the table and give our opinion and selection as to who would be the next president of the United States.
I can’t remember all the candidates at that time, Sen. Scoop Jackson of Washington though I remember, and of course Carter was running against President Gerald Ford.
As everyone went around the table giving their opinions and predictions, I was last in the circle.
“Who’s your choice, Jim?” my publisher asked
Having known only one candidate firsthand, I said, “Jimmy Carter.”  Well, all the united talent and political insight and knowledge of The New York Times establishment glared at me.
“Who is this guy?” I thought them thinking.  “Does he work for us?” they probably were thinking.
Well, guess who was right among all those New York Times biggies.
Mr. Carter went on to win the election and the presidency, serving from 1977 to 1981, losing for a second term to Ronald Reagan.  In 2002, Mr. Carter received the Nobel Peace prize for all his work in attempts to secure more lasting world peace.
In his 80s today, he still gives his time, and is held in high personal regard in all political circles.  I have heard him speak on many occasions, and he continues to have a solid grasp of political issues. His opinions are clear and concise, worth listening to and observing.
Mr. Carter will be at Bainbridge State College on Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. at the Kirbo Center.  Trust me,  it will be an educational experience.
I am sure it will be one of the most important and enlightened evenings to occur in Bainbridge in many years.

Jim Smith is a former editor of The Post -Searchlight, and from 1999 to 2011 was owner of The Book Nook in Bainbridge.  He and his wife Faye are now retired, living in Tallahassee. He can be reached by email at: bainbooknook@yahoo.com

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