Meet a 'Granny' with guts

Barbara Bates Smith channels Doris Haddock in new show
By Mary Ann Enloe | Jan 14, 2013
Photo by: Courtesy photo See Barbara Bates Smith, above, become the famous Granny D, a feisty firecracker of an older lady who fought hard for her beliefs in campaign finance reform. Smith's show, "Go, Granny, Go," ends its run at NC Stage in Asheville this weekend.

At the age of 90, a crusty New Hampshire political activist who would soon form ties to Asheville found herself a heroine to many and the punchline for late-night TV hosts. Doris "Granny D" Haddock's journals spoke to well-known Haywood County actress and writer Barbara Bates Smith who takes on Granny D.'s persona this weekend at NC Stage in downtown Asheville.


Fired up in late 1999 about the need to publicize election campaign finance reform,  Granny D. informed her son that she was going to fly to Los Angeles and walk back.


Her 3,500-mile trek along a southern route to Washington, DC, brought her through Asheville. Haddock's journey journals became a book she called "You're Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell" and public servants from both sides of the aisle, including John McCain and Jimmy Carter, praised her purpose and passion.


Those same journals inspired Smith to write and perform the insightful, funny one-woman show "Go, Granny, Go" now playing its second week at NC Stage.


Smith got it right, said Asheville videographer Rebecca MacNeice. MacNeice should know. She hosted Granny D. many times at her small apartment.


"I'd let her have my bed and I'd sleep on the floor," MacNeice said on the walk to the parking lot after Friday night's performance. The pretty young woman met the activist at a chance encounter in Asheville in 2000, near the end of Granny D.'s journey.


"She'd had a really bad day. There was a scheduling mix-up at Wal-Mart and she got thrown out," MacNeice said with a laugh. "We started talking and that was the beginning of it. She slipped into Asheville quietly many times and crashed with me. We'd sit around and play Scrabble and talk."


When Granny D. ran for US Senate from New Hampshire in 2004 — at age 94 — she asked her young Asheville friend to produce and film her television commercial.


"She could afford to run it only once, but I was proud of it and she was too," said MacNeice.


"I wasn't sure I wanted to come tonight," MacNeice continued. "I didn't know how she would be portrayed. She was raw and quite tough, you know. She could terrorize people. But I shouldn't have worried. Barbara Bates Smith got it just right. She chose the right quotes and her delivery was just perfect. I could hear Granny D. in her voice."


An appreciative Friday night audience was peppered with parishioners from Smith's church, St. Andrews Episcopal in Canton where her husband, retired physician Dr. Russell Smith, is a deacon. Haywood County Democrats had seen an earlier, abbreviated version of the work and many returned Friday night. They got their money's worth and more.


Before the show, Dr. Smith said he feared that campaign finance reform was not a popular topic for folks today. Friday night's audience assuaged that concern when almost everyone stayed after the performance to participate in a question-and-answer session with former NC Rep. Ray Rapp who talked about the infusion of outside, unaccounted-for funds flowing into North Carolina during the 2012 election cycle.


"Follow the money," he said.  "You've always heard that and it's true."


Rapp referred often to the words of Granny D. as spoken by Smith.


"I was struck by the understanding of this 90-year-old woman that campaign finance reform was needed and that she decided to do something heroic to publicize that need," he said.


Rapp went on to say that any federal changes will have to come in the form of Constitutional amendments because of the Supreme Court's ruling that corporations are people.


"At the state level, it's about transparency. If you take it, you must disclose it.  Tell your legislators you expect that," he said.


To learn more about the feisty woman who took her passion for good government to the streets, let Smith, a brilliant actress/writer, teach you. Traditionally known for her spot-on adaptations of Southern author Lee Smith's work, Smith is a woman with a message in her own interpretation of Granny D. Smith's musical partner, guitarist and hammered dulcimer player Jeff Sebens, will have you singing along to "This Land is Your Land" and "Blowing in the Wind."  And if you're in a particular age category, you'll wear your complimentary "You're Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell" button with pride.


NC Stage is a professional theater located on the narrow street between the Civic Center and the Library in downtown Asheville. The intimate venue is comfortable, and refreshments which can be taken into the theatre are reasonably priced at the concession window. Public parking is plentiful and close by.  or tickets, see or call 239-0263. Showtimes are 7:30p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 18 and 19, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20.