PORT ANGELES — People would ask Lillian Carter: Was it your best day when your son Jimmy was inaugurated as president of the United States?
“I had so many best days,” she answers, starting with the day she was born into this life.
Listeners may step inside this personal history in “Miss Lillian Speaks,” a one-woman show starring Carol Swarbrick, at the Clallam County Democrats headquarters Saturday evening.
An internationally known stage and television actress who lives in Sequim with her husband, Jim Dries, Swarbrick will give a single performance at 7 p.m. at the Democrats’ venue, 124 W. First St.
Tickets, at www.clallamdemocrats.org, are available for a suggested donation of $25. Any remaining will be sold at the door, and a reception with wine, beer, soft drinks and hors d’oeuvres will start at 6:30 p.m.
Swarbrick calls “Miss Lillian Speaks” a high point of her career.
A performer who has appeared on Broadway, in musicals at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre and on television’s “Murder, She Wrote,” among other shows, she began studying Miss Lillian about five years ago.
A Remarkable Mother
The journey started with reading Jimmy Carter’s book A Remarkable Mother and went on from there — farther than Swarbrick dreamed it could.
Early on, Swarbrick learned that Lillian, at age 68, joined the Peace Corps and celebrated her 70th birthday while serving in India.
She learned, too, about Lillian’s life as the mother of four children: colorful individuals named Jimmy, Ruth, Gloria and Billy. Lillian raised them with the love of her life, Earl Carter, by her side.
She was a Georgia peanut farmer who enjoyed some earthy humor and salty language.
She lived 85 years, a mother, a grandmother and the daughter of Jim Jack Gordy — Papa — a father with deep flaws and convictions.
Swarbrick studied all of this and then some.
She worked with director James Rocco, writer Jeff Scott and with her husband, a writer, actor and returned Peace Corps volunteer, to create “Miss Lillian Speaks.”
She recorded a DVD of an early performance and sent it to the Carter Center, the international human rights and public health organization in Atlanta.
The video found its way to Jimmy Carter himself. The 39th president, along with his wife, Rosalynn, liked Swarbrick’s portrayal enough to invite her to Plains, Ga., where they gave her a tour of the Pond House, Miss Lillian’s refuge at the Carter family’s place.
Swarbrick and Dries were in Plains, it so happened, as Jimmy marked his 87th birthday.
As “Miss Lillian Speaks” continued to take shape, Swarbrick and Dries were invited back for more visits, which included more conversations about Miss Lillian.
They learned about the Better Hometown Program, Jimmy and Rosalynn’s nonprofit community-building organization, and this past year, Swarbrick, Dries and a small group of Clallam County friends bid, in a Better Hometown Program benefit auction, on a fishing trip with the Carters.
They made the trip in September to the Carters’ pond — and back to Miss Lillian’s house.
After catching some fish, the Clallam visitors lunched with Rosalynn and Jimmy, who was about to turn 91.
It was there in Georgia that Swarbrick had a chance to talk with Marcia Farrell of Port Angeles, then the Clallam County Democrats vice chairwoman, who was part of the fishing cohort.
“She came up and took my hand and said, ‘I would love to do a fundraiser’ ” of “Miss Lillian Speaks,” recalled Farrell.
Benefit for party
So it has come about: Proceeds from Saturday’s play will benefit the Democrats.
And as she does with all “Miss Lillian” performances, Swarbrick will also send a portion to the Better Hometown Program.
After the Clallam show, Swarbrick will take it on the road: She’s booked to do “Miss Lillian Speaks” at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Mo., on Feb. 13 and at a theater in The Villages, Fla., on March 17.
At all venues, Swarbrick will follow the show with a question-and-answer session — as Miss Lillian Carter, that free and strong spirit she has come to know.
Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at [email protected]