I was very sad to hear of the recent passing of Ms. Dixie Carter, but I wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate a lady who is the epitome of a southern belle and in a way provided inspiration for this little blog’s very existence. Known by so many for her role on Designing Women, Ms. Carter's Julia Sugarbaker is something of an icon in her own right. Julia was never at a loss for words and her delivery of those now infamous "tell it like it is" speeches was just priceless. Some friends of mine who work with the public have a running joke: "Don't make me go all Julia Sugarbaker on you" when the need arises for someone to be put in his/her place.
As a child, I watched Designing Women with my parents when it first aired, but most of the jokes and innuendo were over my head. It wasn't until later that I was able to fully appreciate the story and characters from an adult perspective. Before Designing Women, the only shows I had ever seen featuring characters from the south were the Dukes of Hazzard, The Waltons and the Beverly Hillbillies. I think what stood out about DW was how the south served as another character on the show, but one to be celebrated instead of mocked or pitied.
I will admit that I mostly pretended to be Suzanne...with all the tiaras, a maid and her very own pig. But there have been some moments when I channeled Julia...thinking to myself how would Julia Sugarbaker respond to this situation? Obviously all humans are flawed and since characters are human too (even make-believe ones), Julia Sugarbaker had her foibles as well. Yes, she often put her foot in her mouth. Yes, she had a tendency to speak out of turn. Yes, to some she might have been seen as brash, pushy, unyielding and stubborn. But she was fiercely loyal to those she loved, including her beloved south. She stood up for what was right, even when it might have been unpopular and she wasn't afraid to get in someone's face if necessary.
Now you might be thinking that I'm letting Julia Sugarbaker overshadow the real person here, Ms. Dixie Carter. But I have to think that Miss Dixie couldn't have played Julia so well had she not ultimately possessed similar qualities. Born in McLemoresville, TN, she attended the University of Tennessee (my alma mater) as well as Rhodes College in Memphis. She raised two beautiful daughters (who both made an appearance on Designing Women) and spent the last twenty-five years married to Hal Holbrook (a one-of-a-kind southern gentleman).
I recently read Delta Burke's 1998 autobiography and in it she talks about a falling out that took place between some members of the Designing Women cast around the time of show's downfall. I can't tell you how happy I was to see pictures of the cast reunited (and seemingly reconciled) at an event in 2006.
These southern ladies made quite an impact on me and I believe that it is in part because of women like Dixie Carter that people from the south feel proud to be so. Julia Sugarbaker once said that “here in the south, we don’t lock up our crazy people. We put them on the porch for all to see.” Dixie Carter will be greatly missed, but her sass and charm will live on in the ones who knew and loved her. And the great thing about creating such a wonderful character is that while Miss Dixie has left this earth, the immortality of Julia Sugarbaker is a given…for there will always be things to stand for and people who need to be told ‘what’s what.’