Allie Murray smith
2021 Inductee, Georgia Women of Achievement
“I don’t like it. I’d be working at the post office now if they’d let me. I think you should be able to work as long as you’re physically able and want to work. Someone asked me if I’d told Jimmy that and I said
‘He knows how I feel."
– Lillian Eugenia Smithr
December 24, 1905
April 1, 2000
City, Town, Region
Few women in Georgia have achieved what Allie Smith achieved, and through her example led to the critical role of caregiving and doing for others what she inspired a first lady of the United States to do. Allie Smith’s goodwill spread beyond Georgia to the nation and the world through her commitment to hard work and helping others. Her works set the example for others to follow and led to improving the quality of life for people around the world.
Born a few miles south of small-town Plains in Sumter County, Allie was the daughter of John William “Captain” Murray (1871-1966) and Rosa Nettie Wise Murray (1880-1941). Her ancestry is traced back to both Germany and England. She graduated from Plains High School in May 1924, then attended Georgia State College for Women, from which she earned a diploma on June 7, 1926. She married Edgar Smith of Plains less than two weeks later, on June 20, 1926.
She named her first daughter Eleanor Rosalynn for her own mother, whose first name was Rosa. Notably, all four of the children of Allie Smith also graduated from college. Jerry Smith earned an engineering degree and worked in Indiana; Murray Smith became a math teacher and coach; youngest child Allethea worked at banks in both Americus and Atlanta. Of course daughter Rosalynn became first lady of Georgia and the United States. Undoubtedly, Allie’s college graduation proved influential in each of her offspring.
Losing her husband to leukemia in 1940 when her children ranged in age from only 4 to 13, Allie’s life took an obligatory route when she was forced to raise her children as a single parent and work outside the home. Yet she always was reserved, and gracious. She spoke softly and slowly, but “the strength is there. It shows up when she needs it,” said James Neyland in “The Carter Family Scrapbook,” published in 1977. In his 1978 book “Cousin Beedie And Cousin Hot,” Hugh Carter indicated that Allie Smith “has never been heard to say anything disparaging about anyone.” That’s the kind of loving person that Allie was. “And that’s the example that Rosalynn learned from,” Hugh Carter wrote.
Her husband Edgar Smith had left money for his children to attend college, but Allie would not touch it until it was time for college. Instead, she went to work! Duties included sewing; working in a grocery store and in a school cafeteria; and long hours as a postal clerk. She even sewed wedding dresses for Plains brides.
ln 1978, Rosalynn Carter said her mother had been “an inspiration to me all my life.” From “Mama Allie’s Recipes,” published posthumously in 2001, Rosalynn Carter wrote, “She taught me by her example.” Allie Smith was employed at the Plains Post Office for 29 years, having to arrive for work each day at 7 a.m. She faced the mandatory retirement age of 70 at the end of 1975, and was forced to retire, against her will. She then took a job as a part-time employee at a flower shop, and played a key role the next year in presidential campaign of her son-in-law, former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter.
She helped him get elected as U.S. president on Nov. 2, 1976, and he eventually extended the retirement age to 79 for government workers.
“The First Mother-In-Law Is No Joke; ‘Miss Allie Is Jimmy’s Latest Ambassador-At-Large” screamed a headline from People magazine on Aug. 1, 1977. The article highlighted Allie’s trip to Newcastle, England, as a member of the travel exchange groups People-to-People and Friendship Force. She also later traveled to Soviet Georgia, Scotland, Brazil and West Berlin. The Newcastle trip, her first abroad, was a bit intimidating, but among her favorite memories was being introduced to Queen Elizabeth while on a visit to Durham Cathedral. As her trip ended, she obliged photographers by hand waves from the airport ramp. “We don’t say ‘cheese’ anymore in Plains,” she jokingly said. “We say ‘peanuts’ instead. You get a picture with a real good smile that way. Sure worked for Jimmy, didn’t it?”
Being an ambassador brought notoriety to the low-key Allie Smith. The stories and good works she shared not only spotlighted Georgia, but the United States around the world. She visited Camp David in Maryland with her daughter’s family during the Carter presidency. Back home, she, though received her own recognition. In April 1978 in her home state, she was honored by her alma mater Georgia College as its “1978 Alumni Mother of the Year” award in Milledgeville. A total of 26 of Allie’s classmates from the Class of 1924 as well as her children and some grandchildren attended. The same year, she brought notoriety to her home state by appearing on The Mike Douglas Show.
At other times, Allie was called upon for such simple events as ribbon-cuttings at new restaurants, or behind-the-scenes handiness at Plains United Methodist Church. Perhaps more importantly than anything, she was once called by President Carter “one of the greatest mothers-in-law who ever lived.” That quote appeared in obituaries nationwide at her death on April 1, 2000 at the age of 94.