“Mary King: A Key Carter ‘Brain Truster’ From the Beginning”, by Kandy Stroud Special to The New York Times

This article by Kandy Stroud originally appeared in The New York Times on July 8, 1976.

WASHINGTON, July 7—It was like so many other mornings during the last four years. Jimmy Carter awoke in Mary King’s Capitol Hill townhouse, and at 8 A.M. bounded down the celadon green carpeted stairs for his usual cup of coffee and piece of toast. The former Governor of Georgia sat across the kitchen counter from Miss King, his collar open, sleeves rolled up, red-penciling the seventh draft of a major policy speech on health.

Mary King, like her husband, Dr. Peter Bourne, Mr. Carter’s deputy campaign manager, is a Carter intimate. And like Mr. Carter himself, she is softspoken, sugar-mannered and crystal-eyed with an inner core of anthracite. She is described by friends and co-workers as effective but cunning, cooperative but shrewd, idealistic but ambitious, and spiritual but, when required, ruthless. Outside the family circle of Carter women, there is probably no woman closer to the Georgia peanut farmer than the sophisticated, 35-year-old Miss King.

It is rare in any Presidential campaign that any one woman has had as complete access to “The Man” both as consultant and comrade, and rarer still in this Southern-Saturated core of advisers that any Northerner (Miss King was born in Manhattan) has been permitted to penetrate. In fact, Hamilton Jordan, Mr. Carter’s campaign manager, grumbled to Miss King the other day, “You see more of Carter than I do.”

Miss King is considered one of the Carter brain trust, on the same level as his foreign policy adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and his economist, Lawrence Klein. She steers several Carter policy task forces, including children’s rights and youth services, disabled and handicapped, and health. As a delegate to the Democratic National Convention from the District of Columbia, she has been asked by Mr. Carter to present the party’s platform plank on health at Madison Square Garden.

Director of Women’s Group

Miss King is also Mr. Carter’s chief adviser on women and was recently named director of the newly formed Committee of 51.3 Percent, a group of elected women officials and leaders who will provide Mr. Carter with a speakers bureau, advise him on a wide range of national issues and help him “search aggressively for able qualified women from every section of the land to serve at the highest levels of my administration.”

The Committee of 51.3 Percent (socalled because women comprise that percentage of the country’s population) was Miss King’s brainchild. When she suggested it to Mr. Carter in a memo, he scrawled across the top of it, “excellent, proceed,” and she has. So far she has recruited more than 100 women leaders from the worlds of politics, business, finance and education to serve on her national advisory board.

To find qualified women for possible Government posts, Miss King says she is using the “ice-pick system,” that is, reducing thousands of résumés to computerized cards.

“I want to make sure,” she explained, “that for every appointment Carter makes as President he will have the résumé of at least one completely qualified woman. He won’t be able to say, as other Presidents have, that he couldn’t find a woman qualified enough.”

Miss King said she sees or speaks to Mr. Carter about once a week, and works with him on major speeches. The King-Carter alliance is due in part to the fact that Miss King’s husband, Dr. Peter Bourne, a psychiatrist, is one of Mr. Carter’s closest friends. Dr. Bourne was the first person to urge Mr. Carter to run for the presidency more than four years ago. At the time, Dr. Bourne was the then Governor Carter’s State Director of Mental Health.

Her Office is His Headquarters

Both Miss King and Dr. Bourne have worked tirelessly to generate interest in the previously unknown Southern governor, wining* and dining the Washington press corps over the last four years.

Miss King, who has her own management consultant firm, Mary King Associates, which provides technical assistance and conducts research in health care and community services for government and nongovernmental clients, offered Mr. Carter her office. It has since been expanded into the regular Carter campaign headquarters.

Mr. Carter acknowledges that Miss King and Dr. Bourne have been his entree in Washington.

“They know and understand the interrelationships between people in Washington,” he said. “And whenever I’ve had a question on women’s rights or health care, Mary has been very knowledgeable and helpful. She’s one of the key people who helped me put together my ideas on national health care. She’ll be one of my closest advisers on health care in the general election and in the future.”

Seated in campaign headquarters at a desk neatly stacked with voluminous pink message slips and yellow legal pads and surrounded by pictures of John and Robert Kennedy, Mr. Carter and the poignant faces of poverty she has photographed herself, Miss King talked about her first impressions of Mr. Carter and the forces that molded her own life. Wearing a green and white Diane von Furstenberg dress, and making points with perfectly manicured hands glittering with diamond and ruby rings, she looked more like a starlet than speech writer.

Impressed by Speech He Made

Miss King said her passionate commitment to Mr. Carter stems from a speech on mental health reform she heard him deliver in 1971 when he was still Governor.

“I had never before heard an elected official speak with such compassion and feeling about human suffering. And true to his word he developed an absolutely outstanding record on mental health in Georgia,” she said.

Miss King, the daughter of a Methodist minister and a nurse/teacher, said she “always had a strong sense of public service and working to make my life count for something.” In that respect, Dr. Bourne said, “she is also like Carter. That is his driving force—-to do something consequential.”

Miss King said her Virginia-born father fled the segregated South to preserve his own Christian principles and to find “greater freedom in the pulpit to speak out on race.” She credits his outlook with sharpening her sensitivity to the plight of minorities, both blacks and women.

A Moralist-Activist in College

“I grew up with a sense of outrage,” she said. “It sounds pious and dopey, but I took my father’s sermons seriously.”

By the time she entered Ohio Wesleyan University, she had become a moralist-activist. “Very left wing? No. To me liberalism is just applied Christianity.” She took part in sit-ins and demonstrations, spent Christmas of 1963 in an Atlanta jail for protesting a black friend’s right to be served at a coffee shop, became communications coordinator for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in Georgia and Mississippi, and in 1964 organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenge to the Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City.

In 1965 she published a “manifesto” calling for the rights of women and blacks; she says it provided the basis of the first women’s meeting in Chicago in 1966 and helped give impetus to the women’s liberation movement.

From the radicalism of the sixties, Miss King turned to Government for answers to human problems. In 1968 she joined the Washington branch of the Office of Economic Opportunity where she spent four years planning and developing comprehensive health care programs for both rural and urban low-income families.

One of her projects was the Atlanta Southside Comprehensive Health Care Center, where she first met Peter Bourne.

“I’ll never forget the night we met,” Dr. Bourne said. “Mary had come to deal with a hostile black community group. The group was angry with O.E.O., with Emory University and with the director of the health center. She calmed everyone down. She let every side have its say. She was the perfect intermediary and negotiator. I knew then this was the person I wanted to marry.”

Field of Health

Another of her projects was Beauford-Jasper, in the flatlands of South Carolina where Miss King recalls Senator Ernest F. Hollings weeping at the sight of infants infested with worms and dying of malnutrition. She also recalls being impressed that Jimmy Carter was the only Governor at the 1972 Southern Governors Conference who “left the beaches to come by helicopter to inspect the project and to encourage the health personnel there to carry on their work with the poor.”

If there is one area in which Miss King feels she has had an influence on Mr. Carter, it is in the field of health.

“Two years ago,” she said, “he was worried about a comprehensive national health care system. He felt the costs would be prohibitive. I helped him understand the outlandish expenditures under our current system could be absorbed and controlled by national health insurance.”

Changed His Views on Abortion

She said she also believes she has brought Mr. Carter around on abortion. “I helped him understand abortion as an alternative to failed contraception,” she said. “He had only looked at it before as an ethical issue.”

Miss King is now writing a major speech on women that both Mr. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have helped on.

“I always consult Rosalynn as an expert,” Miss King said. “Her understanding of women’s problems is real and pragmatic because of the way she grew up. She was never raised on silken pillows. She worked out of necessity, so she has a good grasp of the way the world looks to women who have to work to support their families.

“This is what Jimmy wanted me to include in the speech. He is most concerned about the plight of women who work in mills and factories and on farms for low wages and still have another life to cope with at home.”

Miss King insists that Mr. Carter is a “natural feminist” and is quick to answer those who call him sexist for greeting women on the campaign trail with “Hi, beautiful” or “You’re so pretty.”

“It’s anachronistic,” she admitted, “but it’s Southern courtesy. It’s a matter of style, not substance.”

She also has an explanation for women’s groups that have railed at Mr. Carter for allowing a watering down of women’s caucus resolution at the recent Democratic Party rules committee hearings that would have given women 50 percent representation at future conventions.

‘An Open Process’

“Carter disapproves of the mathematical approach, Miss King said. “He wants an open process. in the District of Columbia, for example, four out of six delegates elected were women. With a 50-50 approach, women would have come out with one less.”

Miss King said she believes women will fare “better than anyone dreams” under a Carter administration.

“Rosalynn has a great impact on his thinking and she is a natural proponent of women,” Miss King said. “I think he’ll see to it that the Equal Rights Amendment will pass. He’ll work for day care, too. That and mental health will be Rosalynn’s projects. She’s already investigating them.

“I anticipate he’ll have at least two women in his Cabinet. He wants to appoint women throughout the Government in high level posts. Ambassadorships, Federal judgeships, the Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve System. He wants to see women fully involved. His will be a total package approach.”