StoryCorps Atlanta: We just liked each other
In the 1960s, Betty Swims was a young widow with four children to support. It wasn’t easy and she didn’t always know where or how she’d get the money. She tells her son Roger about it.
Betty Swims-Gray: Well, honey, it was terrifying. I didn’t have a college degree and I had no particular skills except being a mother. We learned that the Playboy Club was going to be opening here in Atlanta, and my father heard about it. And he encouraged me to go down and interview. I was hired. It was a very good paying job. I was able to provide the things that I needed to provide for you four children.
Roger Swims: That worked for a couple years and then ...
Betty Swims-Gray: I was too old. It was determined that I was too old to be a Playboy bunny, so they let me go. In the meantime, my parents encouraged me to go to cosmetology school, learn how to cut hair ...
Roger Swims: You decided to go into men’s hair, and one day you get a call from a former acquaintance at the Playboy Club.
Betty Swims-Gray: Well, his name was Gerald Rafshoon. He and Jimmy Carter had been discussing a run for the presidency. He was the governor of Georgia at the time. Gerald called and said, “I’d love for you to see him. I want you to cut his hair. We need him more current.” The men were beginning to wear their hair a little bit longer in the corporate world.
Roger Swims: So, the first time you saw him – describe that scene. You went out into the parking lot and what’d you see?
Betty Swims-Gray: Well, I had been told that the state trooper would deliver [Jimmy Carter] to my place of business. And at that appointed moment, I went outside and sure enough, the state trooper rolled up and the governor, at the time, got out of his car. He just was grinning like he does. He has a most wonderful smile. And he put me immediately at ease, and I said, “Gosh, I can hardly wait to get my hands into your hair.” He loved that. (laughs) So that was a good beginning. I mean there I was cutting the governor’s hair, and he was so sweet and so kind. We just liked each other! The last time I cut his hair was the night before he was inaugurated President of the United States. My daughter Gina and I flew to Washington. We were limousined to the Blair House which is across from the White House. That’s where the Governor and Mrs. Carter were staying. And so, I cut his hair, and he was gorgeous, and I was really proud. The next day he was inaugurated, and we were out there in the throngs of people who were excited to see him become our next president.
This story was produced locally for GPB by Brenda Ford and recorded in partnership with the Atlanta History Center. Learn how to record your family history at GPB.org/storycorps.