A man tells her she is an "angel" and a little girl runs alongside her seeking an autograph. Automatically she is addressed as "Ruth" just as her brother is still called "Jimmy."
When Ruth Carter Stapleton, the President's evangelist sister, spills out her emotions to a crowd and talks of how God has provided psychological and physical healings in her life, individuals in the audience usually have one of two reactions.
Either they feel consoled that their troubled lives are not really a typical after all. As one woman put it, "she's like the rest of us, someone you can identify with."
Or to others, what she says can be disconcerting. As one man said, "I know people who are just racked with agony and when they hear her, they think, 'Maybe I don't have enough faith' or 'Doesn't God love me?"
Ruth Carter Stapleton's rise to widespread public attention because she is Carter's sister has once again placed the continuing controversy about "faith healing" in public view. And it has also created dilemmas for her own "inner healing" ministry which she has espoused to one degree or another for 17 years.
To provide a balanced perspective on the subject the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of Northern Virginia asked both Stapleton - whose knowledge is based on personal experience - and the Rev. John C. Haughey, a Jesuit scholar at Woodstock Theological Seminary in Washington - whose information is theologically grounded - to speak last Friday at an outdoor evening of "prayer and praise" at Yorkstown High School in Arlington.
Haughey, also a member of the neo-Pentecostalist charismatic movement that some see as a renewal force within mainline churches, cautioned healing enthusiasts among the 3,000 worshippers to beware of too-simplistic beliefs, urged skeptics to take seriously healings that are happening all around them and asked those who don't know what they think to keep their minds open.
Then Stapleton, who is 46, described how growing up in a protected environment, how having never had to wash a dish or launder her underwear and how feeling too much love from her father and insufficient from her mother eventually crippled her emotionally as an adult.
Her femininity was apparent in her perfectly coiffed blond hair, flawless makeup and lightly polished fingernails, the blue eyes that crinkle at the corners, the flashing Carter smile. And her acknowledged tendency to "lean" on others, combined with her openness about her traumatic private experiences and her gentle conception of God's mercy had an obvious impact on her audience.
A priest said he thought to himself, "Why is this woman so damn charming?" Another man concluded, "It's the Southern belle." Stapleton is "a very humble person," said an admirer. "She's not a belter."
Even before Carter's candidacy, Ruth Stapleton had a following. But it was smaller, mostly in the South and among charismatics, who continue to be her strongest supporters.
However, she was initially criticized for practicing pop psychiatry, and for a time she "went through a period where I didn't know if I'd be able to complete a meeting without people getting up and leaving."
The controversy follows her, but she has built a wider following, including some in the Orietn and Latin America. At any rate, since Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy, she said with a laugh at a press conference earlier this year, "I've not had a meeting canceled."
Now people walk up to her house where she lives with her husband, Robert, a veterinarian in Fayetteville, N.C., and peer in the windows. She gets dozens of phone calls daily from all over the country and dozens of invitations to speak.
She has had to install two answering services in her home since the first of the year, have her private line unlisted and hire another secretary. She is constantly on the go. "We could have her booked every night," said Russell O'Dell, marketing director at World, Inc., publishers in Waco, Tex.
She and her promoters claim that the press has not interpreted her correctly and they have used her statements to attack the Presidet and his religious views. She complained to the National Religious Broadcasters at a press conference in January that "my image has changed drastically - that I'm a faith healer."
Stapleton is conscious about not getting caught by a camera in a demonstrative religious pose that might later prove embarrassing. She is gracious to admirers but becomes visibly nervous as reporters get close.She has learned to be careful not to talk too much about her own spiritual experiences, although she does concede she has experienced such "spiritual gifts" as "speaking in tongues" and miraculous healings. She doesn't bring up Carter's name in her talks.
Some of the "misinterpretations" her supporters mention occur -- as they did for President Carter when he discussed his religion - from the way the questions are answered.
In January she was asked at a press conference here, "Does the President believe in the deep recesses of his mind that his is a divine appointment and that it's an indication of a Christian spiritual awakening in our land."
Said Stapleton: "I know this is the way he feels . . . He has prayed, 'Lord I'm going to do everything I can to win . . . If I win, I will assume it's Your will."
Last year, Stapleton's first book, "The Gift of Inner Healing," was published by Word in February. The original draft had been rejected by Word.
Immediately after publication, Word decided to disassociate its marketing of the book from the presidential campaign.
"We didn't push her relationship to candidate Carter," said O'Dell, marketing director. "We wanted to dissociate ourselves from the political arena." Whether Carter won or lost, Stapleton had her own career.
"Early on," said Stapleton, "I didn't want anyone to know I was Jimmy Carter's sister."
So, when Stapleton was campaigning for Carter, she did not promote her book, and when she was speaking about her book, she did not discuss politics - with a couple of exceptions.
"Candidate Carter's sister being an evangelist aided the 'missiah' interpretation that some were pushing on him," O'Dell said.
Now Ruth Stapleton stays in the White House when she's in town and she has attended some state dinners. Her first book has sold 110,000 copies in hardback at $4.95 each. A paperback edition issued in March has tallied a comparable number of sales.
Her new book, "The Experience of Inner Healing," is scheduled for publication in June.