Carter draws big crowd to book-signing

December 15, 2003|HERB BROCK

LEXINGTON - Twenty-seven years ago last month Danville banker Greg Caudill cast his first-ever ballot in an election. On Friday he was able to commemorate the event by meeting the man who received his inaugural vote.

"It means a lot to me to be here and meet Carter personally," said Caudill, president of Farmers National Bank.

Caudill was among a crowd of hundreds that packed the upper level of Joseph Beth Booksellers to have their copies of Carter's latest book, "The Hornet's Nest," a novel about the Revolutionary War, signed by the man who served as president from 1977-81 and is a recent recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The signing was scheduled to have taken place at noon, but Carter, known for his punctuality, arrived early and started putting his "J Carter" autograph on books shortly after 11 a.m.

"He can sign 800 books an hour," said a Joseph Beth employee. "He was at a signing in Memphis and the people at the store there said he signed more than 1,800 books in a three-hour period."


That writing prowess is not bad for a man who will be celebrating his 80th birthday next year.

The crowd daring Carter to get writer's cramp, some lugging multiple copies of the book, started building about 10 a.m. By 10:30 a.m. the parking lot at the Lexington Green shopping center, where Joseph Beth is the anchor store, was packed with vehicles.

One customer unfamiliar with the event asked his wife, "Is there some sort of Christmas sale going at the book store?"

Customers were directed to different sections in a long line that snaked around the upper level of the store, depending on what letter was on their ticket. A $27 copy of the thick, hardback book that was released last month, came with a free ticket bearing a letter of the alphabet.

The lettered sections were A-Z, AA-ZZ and AAA-ZZZ, and customers were told to stand in their assigned sections. A store employee said 30 book buyers were assigned one letter. That means more than 2,300 books were sold, and it appeared the vast majority of the purchasers were on hand for the signing.

At different points along the winding line were store employees instructing customers to turn to the title page and stick a flap of the book or a book marker at the place. They were told not to give Carter anything else to sign, including other books, photos or other memorabilia.

A veteran of numerous book-signings, the man from Plains appeared calm and relaxed amid the frenzied activity around him. He was casually dressed, and often flashed the patented, toothful Carter grin as he signed the books.

(For the record, Carter carried Boyle, Lincoln and Mercer counties in 1976, losing Casey and Garrard counties to Gerald Ford; and the Democrat won Boyle and Mercer counties in 1980, losing Casey, Garrard and Lincoln counties to Ronald Reagan. He won Kentucky in 1976 and lost it in 1980.)

"I'm a big fan of Jimmy Carter. Absolutely," said Agnes Wilham Young, a native of the Gilpin area of Casey County who now lives in Corbin.

Asked about the generally poor reviews Carter received for his performance as president, even from many leaders of his own Democratic Party, Young, a retired state Department of Education employee, replied, "I think his record will be appreciated more as time goes on. I think the country appreciates him now for the kind of man he is, what with his efforts for peace and his work with Habitat for Humanity."

Dan Atha, a retired teacher from Harrodsburg, blamed Carter's problems during his presidency on some of the people he picked to help him run the government.

"He was well-intentioned and had a lot of great ideas, about the environment and other issues," Atha said. "But he surrounded himself with too many incompetents, like his budget man, Burt Lance."

But even Carter's difficulty in finding enough competent people to help him run the government didn't knock him down a single peg in Atha's evaluation of him.

"He was, and still is, a morally upright man," he said. "He was the best man we've had as president in my lifetime. But he also was the last Democrat I've voted for, for president."

Caudill has continued to vote for Democrats for president since 1980 when the then-incumbent ran the second and last time for president, losing to Reagan. But no vote for any Democrat since then has meant more than the one he cast for Carter.

"Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and I think the first ballot you cast is the most special one," said Caudill. "It's a vote I'll always remember, and that's why this moment today is so special."

It was also a special moment for Caudill's wife.

"Melissa's family's already familiar with Mr. Carter," he said.

"He stayed with her aunt and uncle during a trip he was making through Virginia."

Caudill realizes many evaluations of Carter's job as president have been harsh and unfavorable, but he believes the former president was hit by unfavorable circumstances, many beyond his control.

"I realize there'a been a lot of criticism of the job he did as president, but as president he was dealt a pretty tough hand, both domestically with the economy and internationally with such events as the Iran hostage crisis," said Caudill. "But he did his best to handle many difficult situations.

"One thing is for sure, though," he added. "Jimmy Carter has made an outstanding former president, with all his efforts for the poor and for peace."

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