ATLANTA — Six of Georgia’s first ladies took center stage Monday night to regale an audience, including four of the state’s governors, with humorous tales of what it was like to live in the governor’s mansion.
The panel, including former U.S. first lady Rosalynn Carter and Georgia’s current first lady, Sandra Deal, was the centerpiece of a book launch event at the Atlanta History Center. Deal, wife of Gov. Nathan Deal, co-wrote a chronicle of the various homes that Georgia’s governors have occupied, particularly the Atlanta mansion built in 1968.
Carter thanked Betty Foy Sanders, wife of former governor Carl Sanders, for her work to build the mansion, which replaced a crumbling granite building that had previously been used as the governor’s home. The Carters were the second family to occupy it, moving in after Jimmy Carter’s election in 1970, and the house quickly became a home for the family following a long campaign, Rosalynn Carter said.
She said the house was almost too big, and that she had to yell “to the top of my voice” when dinner was ready. Entertaining at the mansion prepared her for the White House after her husband’s election as president in 1976 — and how to handle guests’ requests. When Henry Kissinger visited, for instance, his advance staff wanted to drill holes in the floor for telephone wires.
“We sent him to the hotel,” Carter said, laughing along with the audience.
Deal said she immediately was curious about the mansion’s history and tried to learn more by inviting former governors and first ladies over to “pick their brains.”
“Lo and behold, they talked about politics and political friends and laughed,” Deal said. “And I didn’t learn anything.”
But over time she gathered information from employees, volunteers and historians. When docents who give tours at the home urged her to write down all she had learned, she began working on the book with two professors at Kennesaw State University.
Proceeds of copies sold at the mansion go toward a fund for repairs on the house and grounds.