The making of a Nobel laureate

Family, friends and royals will share a toast to Carter

Oslo, Norway --- One recent afternoon, Emily Gordy Dolvin heard a knock at the door. It was a friend bringing by a three-quarter-length tea-colored mink coat.

The coat, not worn for months, perhaps years, arrived on a hanger, wrapped in a white extra-large Olympic mascot "Whatizit" T-shirt from the 1996 Games.

"Oh, you didn't have to bring this by, " said Dolvin, better known as "Aunt Sissy" in former President Jimmy Carter's family. "I already picked out my clothes for Oslo."

From the late Miss Lillian's 80-something sister to Jimmy Carter's grandchildren, the family from Plains will be anything but plain while watching the former president collect his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

Dolvin said she had the sales clerk at Dillard's at Alpharetta's Northpoint Mall help pick out the perfect black suit, although former first lady Rosalynn Carter is keeping her dress a secret. Hopefully, the Carters won't have the same bad luck as some of their Secret Service staff, whose luggage didn't make it to Oslo.

A long wait is over

Many family members are expected to arrive today in the Norwegian capital. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter land at Oslo Airport Gardermoen at 10:05 a.m. (4:05 a.m. EST) on a commercial Scandinavian Airlines flight from Copenhagen, Denmark.

By Saturday evening, the Grand Hotel, in the heart of Oslo, was starting to fill up with Nobel invitees and a gaggle of media representatives.

"Isn't is just beautiful here, " said John Hardman, executive director of the Carter Center, surrounded by the glitter of Christmas lights and white banners announcing the Nobel ceremony.

This much excitement hasn't buzzed around Carter since he won the presidency. One granddaughter, Margaret, contemplated her floor-length black and white dress. She said the entire family had been awaiting this moment for as long as she can remember.

"We have held our breath every year. Finally it's happening, " the 15-year-old said.

Carter will have all four of his children, his grandchildren and his aunt beside him for festivities that will span three days. Not all family members will be able to attend a fairly restricted black-tie banquet with the king and queen of Norway. Carter was permitted to invite about 25 guests to the most formal of this week's colorful events.

Amid the flurry of activity involving tiaras, torches and tunes, Carter will become the third American president and the second Georgian --- the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was the first --- to receive the coveted prize.

Carter has invited 60 guests to the Oslo City Hall ceremony where the Nobel prize will be formally awarded Tuesday. Among those invited are Hamilton Jordan, Carter's White House chief of staff; Jody Powell, his press secretary; and Stuart Eizenstat, his domestic policy adviser.

Emory University President William Chace will be there, as will former aide Robert Pastor and William Foege, a former director of the Carter Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whom Carter lists on "his most admired" list.

Besides Hardman, several Carter Center officials are making the trip. And then there's a contingent from South Georgia that includes Carter's pastor, the Rev. Dan Ariail, and the mayor of Plains.

Opera diva Jessye Norman, a native of Augusta, will belt out "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" before Carter steps up to receive his prize.

A quintessential speech

Carter will be presented a gold medallion that bears the image of Swedish scientist and inventor Alfred Nobel on one side and, on the other, three men with arms interlocked who stand for peace and brotherhood. The medal comes with its own small case and will be displayed later in Atlanta.

Immediately after the presentation, Norman plans to sing "Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Open" and "He Shall Feed His Flock, " both from Handel's "Messiah." The former retells the story of the curing of the sick; the latter, soothing and pastoral in character, is perhaps a reference to Carter's good deeds.

When the music stops, Carter is expected to talk for 23 minutes on peace and human rights, the hallmark of his presidency and 20 years of work with the Carter Center. He studied former Nobel speeches in preparing his own.

"He studied everything and just went off by himself and wrote it, " said presidential scholar Douglas Brinkley, author of "The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House." "The speech will be pure Jimmy Carter. It'll crystallize his 50 years of public service --- the speech that sums up his post-presidency."

The speech has already been delivered to Simon & Schuster, which hopes to begin shipping copies of a book on the Nobel lecture within hours after Carter speaks.

The entire ceremony should be over in about an hour. Afterward, Carter will wave to the crowds from the balcony of the Grand Hotel's Room 201, the Nobel suite.

Then Carter and his guests will slip into the Speilen, or mirror room, for a formal banquet, followed by dancing.

The next evening, Carter will be honored with a gala concert at the Oslo Spektrum, headlined by country singer Willie Nelson and guitarist Carlos Santana. Actors Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins will emcee the tribute to Carter, which will include snippets of an official half-hour documentary filmed last month in Georgia.

Staff writers Don Melvin and Pierre Ruhe contributed to this article.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.