Bessie Lillian Gordy was born in rural Georgia on August 15,
1898, the fourth in a family of nine children. Her father was a
government revenue officer and later a postmaster. She grew up in a
busy, noisy household and never forgot her beginnings.
Lillian entered nursing school in 1920 at Wise Sanitarium in
Plains, Georgia. She met her future husband Earl on a double date
but didn’t like him very much at first. Perhaps opposites
really do attract because Lillian and Earl married right after she
completed her studies.
The Carters raised four children: Jimmy, Gloria, Ruth and Billy.
Jimmy was the outdoors type, Gloria was the independent one who
challenged their strict father, Ruth was a sickly child, and Billy
was an avid reader and a bit of a scamp. Their mom and dad had
different parenting styles; Lillian was less strict than Earl, the
family disciplinarian, but she did leave lists of chores for the
kids to do when she was absent.
Lillian worked first in a hospital and then later in people’s
homes. When she was on 20-hour duty, neighbors looked after her
children. She gave capable, compassionate care to all regardless of
race or ability to pay. In fact, she was usually paid in crops at
harvest time. She owned all the pecan trees on their farm, and
every November she took time off from her nursing duties to
supervise the pecan harvest. She was a shrewd businesswoman who
always received top dollar for her pecans.
During the Depression many folks who were passing through the area
looking for work and better times visited the Carters, who always
greeted them with a meal and a kind word. Lillian wondered why she
had so many of these unexpected visitors while the neighbors had
none. One guest explained that someone had marked the
Carters’ mailbox as being a welcome place to stop.
Earl died of pancreatic cancer in 1953, and Jimmy, much against his
wife’s wishes, left a promising naval career t