For a Mainer, meeting First Lady Rosalynn Carter was like “a Yankee coming down in the middle of King Arthur’s Court,” recalled Jane Fenderson Cabot, president of the Maine Women’s Giving Tree. But Plains, Ga., wasn’t quite as glamorous as the mythical Camelot.
Cabot had driven to Plains on the second day of her new job as director of scheduling for Jimmy Carter’s wife. “She met me at the door beautifully coifed and made up.” And the First Lady also was barefoot and wearing jeans. “She was having her official campaign portrait taken” from the waist up, Cabot said with a laugh.
The Saco native was in charge of Rosalynn Carter’s White House appointments calendar and arranged all of her domestic and international travel during the four years President Jimmy Carter was in office, starting in 1977. Hardly a newcomer to national politics, Cabot had worked for 11 years as a legislative aide to Maine U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie.
Cabot and her husband, Edward, in 2015 retired full time to Harpswell where they had summered for years on property that had been owned by her grandparents. Ned Cabot died three years ago. Her jet-setting days now mostly behind her, Jane Cabot has turned her sights on volunteer work and recently is president of the Maine Women’s Giving Tree.
MWGT has donated almost $400,000 to local organizations since its founding more than a decade ago. Its 75 women members pool their philanthropic dollars to support initiatives that improve the quality of life for women, children and families in Arrowsic, Bath, Brunswick, Harpswell, Topsham, Freeport, Phippsburg, West Bath, Woolwich and Wiscasset. By combining their funds, members said they make a greater impact in MidCoast than they would as individual donors.
This year, MWGT awarded $60,000 in grants to 10 nonprofits, including Elder Abuse Institute of Maine, Midcoast Community Alliance, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, Midcoast Literacy, Oasis Free Clinic, Sweetser, Telford Housing, The Emergency Action Network, The Gathering Place, and Wayfinder Schools.
“In some ways it’s the most rewarding job because it’s hands-on. It’s a volunteer job and we’re doing what we hope are good things for the whole community,” Cabot said. While MWGT work is gratifying for Cabot, it’s not quite as heady as having her own office in the White House, traveling abroad with Rosalynn Carter or running into former boss Sen. Muskie and Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the Rose Garden.
Cabot started working for Maine’s Sen. Muskie during summers when she was a student at Mount Holyoke College and joined his staff full time after graduation. In the 1968 vice presidential election Cabot was on Muskie’s campaign plane fact checking for the candidate. “It was a great experience,” she said.
But when Rosalynn Carter called, Cabot was ready for a change.
Carter was one of the first in her role as First Lady to take substantive trips to meet with heads of states instead of traditional visits to hospitals and schools. “She was so well briefed she won them over.”
In one trip, Cabot talked to an official at an experimental farm in Peru where potatoes, which originated in South America, were grown. “When he started to talk, I said, ‘Where in Maine are you from? He was from Aroostook County.”
Cabot remained friends with Sen. Muskie and his family. One of her most vivid memories was in 1978 when Muskie was walking through the White House’s Rose Garden with Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Cabot had been making her way from the West Wing to her office in the East Wing through the Rose Garden when she saw them. “Oh Jane,” Muskie said, and turned to Humphrey. “You remember, Jane.” Of course he did, he said, although Cabot is sure he had no idea who she was. But that memory remains “such a wonderful picture” for her because it was shortly before Humphrey died.
When President Carter lost his re-election bid, Jane married Edward Cabot, part of the extended Boston Cabot family, and the couple moved to New York. Ned Cabot was formerly a liberal Republican who ran Sen. Jacob Javits’ New York office. Her husband later succeeded Archibald Cox as national chairman of Common Cause and taught law and public policy at Yale, New York University and Trinity College. She convinced him to retire in Harpswell. “Ned loved this place as much as I did,” she said. They tore down the old cottage and built a new house.
While in New York, Jane Cabot ran the non-profit sector of M Booth and Associates, a public relations firm. “Perfect on-the-job training for the Maine Women’s Giving Tree,” she said.
“These are exciting times to be able to be of assistance to those organizations within our community,” Cabot said. “One of our very first MWGT grants went to the Back Pack school program in Harpswell. It is still a viable program and serves nearly every school in the area.”