MARIETTA — The new president of the National Rifle Association has her sights set on growing the organization’s membership and reclaiming Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District for Republicans as she begins a two-year term at the helm.
Carolyn Meadows’ interest in the latter hits close to home. Her roots run deep into east Cobb.
The 80-year-old Meadows was born and reared in east Cobb. She and her husband of 60 years, Bob Meadows, still reside there. Their three sons, she said, “are all conservative Republicans. They are patriots. They are shooters. They all have guns. They are all life members of the NRA.”
Meadows said she has always identified as a Republican and conservative, “fiercely so,” even in high school, graduating in 1956 from Sprayberry High. Her first vote for president was for Dwight D. Eisenhower.
She is the daughter of Roy N. Dodgen and Cleo Mabry Dodgen — Dodgen Middle School was named after her father in the 1980s as he had been a trustee at Mountain View School.
Another Cobb school, Mabry Middle, was named for her great-grandfather, Robert Mabry.
As for her father, he worked primarily as a farmer.
“He actually taught school for a short period of time, but that was before, way before, my time because they couldn't find a teacher for northeast Cobb County. At one point there was actually a one-room school on our property, which was at the corner of Holly Springs Road and Post Oak Tritt, and my three older brothers actually went there. And then Mountain View opened in, I'm wanting to say 1928 or 1929, and they went there then, and at that point it had nine grades. And it did when I went there.”
Her father’s family had moved to the area in the early 1800s, with the property she still lives on coming into her family as part of the land grant in 1838.
GUNS IN THE FAMILY
Three of Meadows' older brothers fought in World War II. She says one of the three, Robert Marion Dodgen, had his plane shot down over Germany and was buried in Saint-Avold, France.
It was probably at the age of 8, she says, when she first learned to shoot a gun.
“I always knew how to shoot, and my father was very strict about that. … I don’t remember ever asking permission to use them — I knew how to — and if I could get the shells or cartridges for it, I would just go shoot, and I was pretty good,” she said, recalling hunting for squirrels and even going frog-gigging while growing up.
Her fourth and surviving brother who is eight years older, Dorsey Dodgen, shared with her a Remington .22 rifle, “and when we could save up enough money to get cartridges, we would compete with each other. Those old wooden matches that you could strike on anything, we’d stand them up, shoot at them, and I could strike them.”
She became involved in gun advocacy efforts in the 1980s just before Ronald Reagan’s presidency, though says her efforts began in earnest when she became a national committeewoman for the Republican National Committee in 1988.
“Mainly because I support the Constitution and the Second Amendment. I mean, that's why we are Americans,” Meadows said of what led her to the issue.
“And as I met people, (now NRA executive vice president and CEO) Wayne LaPierre specifically, after I became national committeewoman, I met Wayne, worked with him and actually not for pay, lobbying. I mean, the state legislator would see me coming and say, ‘Yes, I know what you want,’" she added. “And nationally, I walked the halls of Congress 'til my feet were bloody.”
Meadows joined the NRA’s board in 2003, eventually becoming second vice president, her most recent role before being elected president last month.
Meadows credits her father for her conservative roots.
“My father wanted me to know something about everything, which was prophetic in that he died when I was 11,” she said.
Her father also spent time doing what Meadows recalls was security work.
“I”m fuzzy on exactly what that was, but I do have his revolver,” Meadows said. “I had such an impression and love with my father that I think I assumed the mantle fell on my shoulders, just from the things that he taught, and you know, we used to laugh and say, we lived on Post Oak Tritt, which was part of the farm — I still live on part of it, but Holly Springs Road, but we used to say people would ride by and say "That's the only Republican in the county.' He did not like Franklin Roosevelt."
Though their area was primarily Democrat at the time, Meadows said she did not remember the word “Republican” being said while she was young.
“I knew he would say conservative, that word I did know. And he was very involved in politics and I actually remember people asking him about political things,” she said.
Meadows would go on to pursue politics herself, calling the late Carl J. Harrison a mentor. According to school district records, Harrison had been a Cobb school board member, the first Republican to serve as chairman of the board and the second Republican ever elected in Cobb. He served four years on the board before leaving in 1975 after his election to the Georgia House of Representatives, where he served for seven years. Later elected to the state Senate, his term was cut short due to his death in 1988 at the age of 59.
“He was such a pioneer … helped me learn the ropes,” Meadows recalls. “We struggled back then and it took a lot of work (because) there were conservatives but not Republicans. Carl Harrison was a giant.”
Three years after his death, Harrison had a school named after him: Harrison High.
While the NRA has been put in the crosshairs following mass shootings in recent years, including incidents at schools across the country, Meadows says she believes in allowing teachers to be armed if they wish to be — not forced to carry a weapon.
“I believe in arming teachers. Absolutely. In my church, I’m armed. My pastor is a shooter, a hunter, he knows I am, people in the congregation do,” she says. “This is not NRA position, but as far as I’m concerned, I’d love to have a sign out front: ‘We have gun-toting teachers and security.’ (Mass shooters) go where the people are weak.”
Meadows' new role, she says, is not a ceremonial position, but rather, a working one — a fact she learned firsthand when she served as interim president from May to September of last year. She succeeds Oliver North in the role.
“I would not have taken this job if I didn’t feel like I could save this country. That’s obvious, I’m not young. … My husband said, 'Your whole life has led you to this point.' And he said, 'If you don't do it, you dishonor God,'” Meadows said, adding that she defines herself as “not a religious person — I'm a Christian,” and is a member of Crosspointe Community Church in Roswell.
“The president runs all the meetings, we appoint the committees. As a matter of fact, on May 13, I will be at headquarters, and we have over 40 committees. I will have my first and second VPs with me. Although I could appoint all of them, I would not do that — traditionally, that's not done.”
Meadows says she can also recommend changes to the NRA’s bylaws, which would be presented by the bylaws chairman to the NRA board for a vote.
“(Those board members) are honorable, save the country people by and large — it’s a 76-member board,” she said.
Speaking on the reputation of the organization, Meadows says it is “peculiar almost to NRA that there’s no middle ground,” as many in the country are either staunchly in favor or against it.
“Basically, it’s through ignorance that a lot of people, and not stupidity at all, but they don’t know what we’re about,” she said of those against the NRA. “If you could get to every person out there, eyeball to eyeball, we’d have 50 million NRA members. A lot of Democrats believe like we do, but they've been misguided with the poor leadership at the helm of their party.”
Meadows’ own backyard will be part of the political battlefield as she and other right-leaning groups target U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, who represents Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. Last year, McBath unseated then-incumbent Karen Handel, R-Roswell, who has announced her intention to run for the seat again.
“There will be more than one person in the race, but we'll get that seat back,” Meadows said. “But it is wrong to say like McBath said, that the reason she won was because of her anti-gun stance. That didn't have anything to do with it — it had to do with being a minority female. And the Democrats really turned out, and that's the problem we have with conservatives — we don't turn out as well.”
But Meadows’ focus won’t be limited to the one congressional district, as she has set much bigger goals for her two-year term as NRA president.
“We’re going to work to get Donald Trump reelected, unity, and that’s primarily it, to be politically active, to bring gun-toters into the fold, to get more gun-toters to join NRA,” she said. “It’s a powerful lobby, not just for gun rights, but for rights. We believe in the Constitution. When we take our oath of office we actually swear allegiance to the Constitution of the United States. That’s why I do it.”
To retain the White House, however, Meadows says her organization needs to be successful in its numbers game.
“We need more members — a lot of people think they are a member because they support us, or in years past they were a member and think it lasts forever,” she said. “If you included all of those people, we actually would probably have 50 million members instead of between 5 and 6 million.”
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, lauded Meadows for her longtime work with the NRA.
“Carolyn Meadows was elected unanimously after having led the NRA previously as interim president and served as a member of the organization’s board of trustees for years. She has been a lifelong leader committed to protecting our cherished Constitutional freedoms," Isakson said. "I think she’s a wise choice to lead the NRA, and I believe those who know her and who have worked with her would agree.”