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Richard Hyatt: Jimmy Carter’s story goes on and on

The death of Nancy Konigsmark this week brought back memories of an assignment that has never ended, even though the people around it are passing away.

It started with a trip to Atlanta to interview Jimmy Carter about his four years as governor of Georgia. About the only thing people around here wanted me to ask was why he never turned Georgia 85 into a four-lane.

Not long after that, Carter announced plans to run for president of the United States -- a revelation that made a lot of people laugh out loud.

Our private thoughts were that Carter would soon be back in Plains running the family peanut business. But he was a neighbor, a subscriber to the Columbus Enquirer and he was running for president. We decided we owed him a story before the silliness ended.

I called information and got his home number. When I called, Carter answered. He invited me to his house and a few days later I rang his doorbell. He answered in his sock feet.

After a relaxing visit, I went to downtown Plains, which consisted of a row of buildings parallel to the railroad tracks and U.S. Highway 280. In one of the stores, I walked into what turned out to be a group of residents making plans to get involved with their neighbor’s run for president. Maxine Reese was in charge.

I would see a lot of those folks as that year unfurled. I was there when the most famous resident of Woodland Drive came home as the leader of the free world.

That story has never ended. I’ve followed Carter to the White House and back. But with the death of longtime schedule maker Nancy Konigsmark, I’m reminded how many of the landmark stories have been sad.

When I met her, she was an aide to Rosalynn Carter. She was married to Hamilton Jordan, the adviser that drafted the document outlining how Carter could get elected president. They’ve been divorced for years. Now both of them are dead.

So is press secretary Jody Powell, like Jordan a member of Carter’s Georgia Mafia that got so much attention back then.

Reese, a former schoolteacher, was the point person in Plains. In a campaign that stressed the candidate’s hometown roots she was a major player. So was John Pope, an Americus businessman and Carter’s longtime friend. They’ve also passed away.

I spent a lot of time with Carter’s family that year. His mother, Miss Lillian died years ago. So did his colorful brother Billy, his sisters Gloria and Jean and his cousin Hugh, who ran a worm farm when he wasn’t serving as a state senator.

It was a fascinating group and an amazing story that changed my career. Through their eyes I watched a small farming community help elect a president, and I even learned that peanuts don’t grow on trees.

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