IT’S A NEW, old story.
About 20 years ago, Carol Swarbrick and Jim Dries went out on a blind date. He was a schoolteacher from the Midwest, she an actress from California.
Thunderbolts sliced the clear blue sky. Choirs sang. A romance burst open. After getting to know each other a bit, Carol and Jim went off trekking in Nepal. They discovered kindred dreams; got married and started a new life in Sequim.
Carol, at a point in her career when she wanted to create a one-woman show, found the one she wanted to portray: Lillian Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s outspoken mother.
A couple of synchronicities: Both Lillian and Jim served in the Peace Corps, she in India, he in the Philippines. And Jim was a longtime admirer of Jimmy Carter for his Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity work around the world.
In 2011, Carol wrote to the Carter Center in Atlanta, introducing herself and sending an early DVD of her portrayal of Miss Lillian. She also — why not? — mentioned her husband’s interest in meeting Jimmy. Not that she expected to hear back.
Jimmy himself sent a personal letter to the couple, inviting them to Plains, Ga., to meet his family.
That October visit, around the time of the former president’s 87th birthday, was to be the first of several for Carol and Jim. They’ve spent time in the Pond House, where Miss Lillian loved to be. They fished, lunched and shared Miss Lillian stories with Jimmy, now 93, and Rosalynn, 91. The Carters celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary around the time Jim and Carol marked their 17th.
In the years since, Carol and Jim have developed “The Lillian Carter Story: More than a President’s Mother,” and taken the show all over the continent.
It was in the Show-Me State of Missouri, at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, that Miss Lillian’s saga came into its own. Early versions were set in the Pond House; the show was on the long side. The Truman Library producer wanted something shorter, say 45 to 60 minutes. You got it, Carol and Jim responded.
Today’s slim, trim, beyond-the-Pond-House “Lillian Carter Story” comes to the 1,100-seat Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center for just one performance Saturday, Sept. 15. Ironically, the Port Angeles-based Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts (JFFA.org) found Miss Lillian at the Northwest Booking Conference, a confab for bands and other performers held every October in one Northwest city or another. This conference took place last fall in Tacoma. “The Lillian Carter Story” became part of the 2018-19 JFFA Season Concerts.
Meanwhile, back in the Swarbrick-Dries homestead, the pair has continued to work on the show. It is a living thing; has to be. When asked for the best part about this project, Jim immediately replied: “The biggest joy has been creating the show with Carol.”
“Jim is such a great researcher,” his wife said. “I bow to his research, and he bows to my knowing how and where it’s included in the script.”
At the same time, Carol supports Jim in his work as a theater director.
His next project is “This Christmas,” a new comedy written by Anne Kennedy Brady, a friend of the couple. “This Christmas” comes to the Port Angeles Community Playhouse from Nov. 23-Dec. 9 (PACommunityPlayers.com).
These are artistic endeavors made — brought to full fruition — through creative division of labor. And combined love.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.
Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Sept. 19.
Reach her at [email protected]