Debbie McLane Carter was born in Hanover, into a politically active family committed to social service. She traces her family’s arrival in America back to her paternal great-grandfather, who, at the age of three, sailed here from Scotland together with his parents and two siblings. One of his siblings died at sea, and his father died only two weeks after arriving in America. His mother, who barely spoke English, placed his brother in foster care but successfully raised Debbie’s great- grandfather, and he went on to be elected governor in the state of New Hampshire in 1905. Interestingly, her great-grandfather married a woman who herself had been raised in foster care.
The McLane family was involved in establishing the Child and Family Services of New Hampshire, the oldest charitable children’s organization in that state.
In 1914, several social services agencies, including one established by the McLane family, joined together to form CFS as it is today. The agency is dedicated to advancing the well being of children by providing an array of social services, including, not surprisingly, foster care. There has been a McLane on their board since 1914, including Debbie, who has served for the last 15 years and is chair of the Upper Valley Board.
Raised in Concord, New Hampshire, Debbie was exposed to political campaigning at an early age. She went leafleting door to door for her mother when she ran for the state legislature and campaigned for her father in 1972 when he ran as an independent for governor of New Hampshire. That same year, Debbie took a semester off from Harvard to work for Pete McCloskey, who was running against Nixon in the primary. She then went on to work for McCloskey at the Republican convention in Florida and on his congressional campaign in California.
Debbie graduated from Radcliffe with a degree in psychology. While there, she met her husband, Peter, who had graduated from Harvard and returned to Cambridge to coach the Harvard ski team, of which Debbie was a member. The two of them moved to the Upper Valley in 1975. She taught 2nd and 3rdgrade students in Lyme for six years and then worked part-time while raising their four children: Sasha, Ashley, Maile, and Laurel.
The Carter family spent the 1989-1990 school year living in Spain in order to expose their children to a different language and a different culture. Debbie told me, “We understood the importance of learning a language while young. Peter’s father was a language teacher and Peter grew up speaking Spanish.” Their children went to public school in Spain and were fluent in Spanish when they returned to Norwich.
In 1992, Debbie, continuing in the family tradition of public service, won a seat on the Norwich school board, where she served for six years. As a school board member, a job at the school would have created a conflict of interest, so Debbie and Carolyn Frye, wife of Marion Cross principal Milton Frye, started Afternoon Adventures, an afterschool program for kindergarten children. As Debbie told me, “we did fun things parents would do if they were available.” These included art projects, blueberry and apple picking, hiking, watching a lamb being born, and getting behind the scenes views at places like the airport and a pizza restaurant. Debbie went on to get a Master’s in Education at Harvard and took a job coordinating curriculum and assessment at Marion Cross.
When asked about the Women’s Club, Debbie acknowledges that she didn’t join when she was younger because she thought you were supposed to volunteer and she didn’t have time. But, always a Nearly New Sale shopper and a Floribunda fan, when her children got older, she worked at the Nearly New Sale and now heads up the telethon volunteer recruitment. She previously served on the board as auditor and as program chair.
Today we always tell people that they can join the Norwich Women’s Club and do as much or as little as they want. We offer a wide variety of program opportunities, such as the morning coffee and conversations at the Norwich Inn, currently chaired by Debbie. She enjoys the social aspects of the coffees and meeting other women in town. She concludes, “Just by virtue of your membership you show that you support the Women’s Club and all the wonderful things we do for the community.”
Debbie is still involved in politics as she works actively in the congressional campaigns of her sister, Annie McLane Kuster. She cites Annie’s efforts as an American success story. Their father ran unsuccessfully for governor of New Hampshire, their mother ran unsuccessfully for congress, but Annie personified the dream that “children will surpass their parents,” as she went off to Washington to represent New Hampshire.