In 1982, the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, established the Carter Center to promote world peace, free elections, and worldwide health care. This year, shortly after receiving their annual Christmas card from President and Mrs. Carter, sustaining members of the Carter Center learned of the passing of the 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush. Both men were born in 1924 and both were members of the most exclusive club in the world, the band of living ex-presidents of the United States.
While there remains considerable doubt that Jimmy Carter will be ranked by historians among our greatest presidents, there is no doubt that since he left office some 38 years ago, he has been the most productive.
In the area of health care, the Carter Center focuses on eradication of preventable diseases like leprosy, trachoma, river blindness, and Guinea worm disease. Astonishing progress has been made toward this goal, especially in the case of Guinea worm disease, of which incidence of it in the past four decades has been reduced from millions of cases to around 30.
For nearly 40 years, Habitat for Humanity has provided thousands of homes for people who otherwise would not have a place to live and has been a major interest of President Carter. Homes are built at the rate of some 100 a year in the United States and numerous foreign countries. The project requires families to make interest-free payments over a 20-year period and to contribute hundreds of hours of labor to the building. Jimmy Carter personally leads the builders.
In the past 38 years, President Carter has published some 30 highly readable books: autobiographies; geopolitical commentary; poetry; fiction; children’s literature. In addition, he has scores of oil paintings to his credit and often sells them at auction to benefit the Carter Center. All of this from a farmer turned submariner specializing in nuclear physics turned politician.
President Carter is a cancer survivor. His father, brother, and both sisters died of pancreatic cancer (a record number of pancreatic cancer cases in a single American family), and he himself continues in remission after having been diagnosed a few years ago with a deadly form of the disease.
President Carter would no doubt attribute his remarkable accomplishments to the example provided him by his parents, Earl and “Miss Lillian” Carter. His mother was an especially staunch advocate for the civil rights of African-Americans at a time when such an attitude brought scorn and worse from the white population of the deep South.
In an age of “fake news” and “spin,” it is refreshing to remember a politician whose views and actions with regard to race relations and to the treatment of girls and women is part of the fabric of the man, a great man, Jimmy Carter.