I was 11 years old and living on the other side of the Atlantic when Jimmy Carter became the 39th President of the United States. At that time, America seemed impossibly far away and glamorous, and my interest in US politics did not really begin until the Reagan years in the 1980s.
I don’t think I had even heard of the state of Georgia until Carter was elected since the few American TV shows and movies we had in Britain at that time seemed to focus on Hawaii, Hollywood and New York. The fact that Carter was a peanut farmer also seemed a long way away from my reality as a schoolgirl in London, England. Little did I know that three decades later I would make Georgia my home, albeit on the coast and 220 miles away from where Jimmy Carter was raised in Plains.
I try to avoid politics in this column, even 40 or 50 year old political issues, so I will not talk about Carter’s sole term as President other than to say that he was elected on a platform of being a Washington “outsider” in post-Watergate America that was facing many challenges. As the oldest living US president in history, he has survived metastatic brain cancer and faced a number of other health scares, including brain surgery following a fall in 2019. At the time of writing this column, 98-year-old Jimmy Carter is under hospice care at his beloved home in Plains surrounded by family.
However, on a personal level, Jimmy Carter strikes me as a man driven by a sense of duty and a deep religious faith. His commitment to doing his duty and what he believes to be the right thing began early as he chose a military life, graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946. That year he married Rosalynn who also came from the small town of Plains, Georgia, and he began a seven- year career in the U.S. Navy. He was preparing to become an engineering officer for the submarine Seawolf in 1953 when his father died. Carter resigned his commission and returned to Georgia to manage the day-to-day operations of the family peanut farm, fulfilling what he considered his duty as the eldest son. He became involved in local politics, serving on his local school board, and then lost badly when he ran for Governor in 1966. It was about this time that he became a born-again Baptist, and his faith remains very important to him to this day. He famously taught Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown from the 1980s until his health and the pandemic forced him to stop in 2020. Carter was of course successful in becoming the 76th governor of Georgia from 1971-1975, just before his election to the White House the following year, serving as President and Commander in Chief from 1977-1981.
As everyone knows, after Carter was voted out of office in the 1980 general election, he returned to Plains and dedicated himself to humanitarian work through founding the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta which included a presidential library and museum. He founded this nonpartisan organization, which focuses on human rights and disease prevention, with his wife Rosalynn who has been a force in her own right. She advocated for mental health, wrote several books and working closely with her husband, contributed greatly to the expansion of the nonprofit housing organization, Habitat for Humanity. This organization works in local communities across all 50 states in the U.S. and in approximately 70 countries to realize the vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
Carter has also served as a volunteer diplomat without portfolio on behalf of international peace in various conflicts across the world. In the 1990s he negotiated with North Korea to end their nuclear weapons program, in Haiti to transfer power peacefully, and with Bosnian Serbs and Muslims to broker a short-lived cease-fire. For his work in diplomacy and advocacy, Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
There is more information at www. britannica.com I will leave you with a quote from Jimmy Carter himself: “You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.”
Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her PR and marketing agency at lesleyfrancispr.com