Photos Andy Calvert
Jeanne Cahill is a living example of the pursuit of joy. Charming and outgoing, the mother of three has been known to befriend anyone from toddlers to ninety-year-olds. Jeanne speaks freely in sharing her opinions about life and politics and recommends pursuing opportunities that allow you to leave a place better because you were there. These activities, she says, can be the key to a long, fulfilling life.
Of Scott-Irish descent, Jeanne grew up surrounded by a large clan of mostly loving relatives in South Georgia until the lead-up to WWII. Her father, Clifford Taylor, became a civil service employee of the Navy when President Roosevelt signed H.R.1776, April, 1941, establishing the Lend Lease program. The family moved to Norfolk, Va. where he tested engines in planes sent to U.S. Allies in Europe. Homesickness compelled him to seek a transfer closer to home and the family moved to Jacksonville, Fla. for the duration of the war.
Jeanne’s family moved to the Bacon Co. farm in 1948 with apprehension, knowing there was no telephone, and, even worse—no indoor plumbing. The next year, Jeanne graduated high school in Alma and entered Berry College over her father’s protestation. She was 16 and he felt girls needed to remain with their family until at least 18.
He would not pay for anything allowing her to leave. She enrolled as a work student with $5.00 attached to her application and all costs for classes, books, uniforms, food and housing paid for with her work. That paid for two years of college. She left Berry at 18 for a job in Atlanta where she made $27 a week. A year later she moved to Jacksonville to be closer to the family.
She worked as bookkeeper and proofreader and volunteered in political campaigns, eventually leafleted her neighborhood for Al Cahill, a businessman campaigning for sheriff. His election win ousted a corrupt 27-year sheriff. After the election, the former sheriff refused to step aside until midnight. As all of his staff had resigned, Jeanne was hired as executive assistant and was the first new person deputized, making her the first female deputy.
This role was far different from her previous time proofreading and to her, far more exciting. Over time, Jeanne and Al realized they were in love. They married in 1959 and moved to Atlanta where Al helped establish a new insurance company.
Al encouraged Jeanne to volunteer, and she joined the Ga. Federation of Women’s Clubs. She met activists working for laws affecting jobs, credit, quotas, pay and other inequities. Volunteering for the Carter campaign for Governor led to her appointment to the Ga. Commission on the Status of Women. Jeanne’s dining room was the office where law and medical interns researched issues.
At Rosalynn Carter’s suggestion, the Commission addressed problems of women prisoners at Milledgeville. Some received harsh sentences for minor infractions and were unpaid staff at the mental hospital next door. The Commission was instrumental in obtaining training plus the release of thirty-two women.
Commissioners researched rape and treatment of rape victims resulting in protocol changes. Governor Carter provided $10,000 to print 10,000 copies of the study with distribution to state enforcement offices, high- and middle schools, and courts. With no grant-writing experience, Jeanne applied to the Federal Labor Department and received $50,000 to open an office. She was appointed as executive director.
President Carter tapped Jeanne as a commissioner to the White House Conference on Families which took her across the country and was a highlight of her volunteering. She served twelve years on the Board of the Epilepsy Foundation of America before re-entering the workforce.
With plans to open a delicatessen, Jeanne had trained for two weeks as a noontime sandwich girl when she was approached about opening a retail store selling upscale exercise equipment. The proponent was seeking financial backing, and Al agreed to finance the business. Jeanne soon bought her partner’s share and ran the store for ten years, selling the business in 1994.
The Cahills then retired to Mt. Airy, Ga., and restored a lovely old home, which is now on the Register of Historic Places. Senator Benjamin Harvey Hill had given the house to his sister in the 1800s, and MLB player Ty Cobb had also lived in the home in the early to mid-1900s.
Seeking a faster-paced lifestyle, the couple moved to Rome in 2002. In 2005 Jeanne decided to finish what she began in 1949 and enrolled at Berry College. She graduated in 2007 as class valedictorian. In 2014, Al died peacefully at home at 101 years of age.
Jeanne reflects fondly on her life and gives much credit to hours spent gardening where time and troubles fly away. She has loving children, great friends, good health, and a zest for life. Her advice to young friends: Take care of your health, leave your mark; with luck you could be here more years than you can imagine.