A Conversation with the Carters
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter visited Georgia Southern University’s Hanner Fieldhouse in February for an evening of inspirational stories about their lives since leaving the White House.
The Carters have a commitment to creating peace around the globe. Since Carter left office in 1981 as the 39th president of the United States, he and Rosalynn founded The Carter Center, which resolves conflicts, promotes democracy, champions human rights and helps prevent diseases. The Carters are also active volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, helping to renovate and build homes for the needy around the world.
Georgia Southern magazine chatted with the Carters and their grandson Jamie, a current Georgia Southern student and logistics major. They discussed family, politics, winning a Grammy award and life at home in Plains, Ga.
GS: How would you envision your life if you had not entered politics?
JC: “I would have been involved in the agricultural industry – I had a cotton gin and supply business and a major peanut shelling plant. I was a farmer for 16 years, just growing peanuts, cotton, corn, soybeans and pine trees. When I came home from the Navy, I actually never intended to run for any public office. “
GS: Prior to your administration, which president do you most admire and why?
JC: “Harry Truman. When I was a submarine officer in the Navy, he was my commander-in-chief. Truman was a pioneer in doing away with racial segregation; he ordered the military to end racial discrimination and that was eight years before Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr. came on the scene. He affected my life in a beneficial way when I saw the wisdom of ending discrimination against African-Americans.”
GS: If you were re-elected, what would your greatest concern be?
JC: “Well I think peace – our country has been at war almost constantly since World War II – starting off with Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Bosnia, Grenada, Panama, Iraq and so forth. I have always been committed to peace and human rights, especially when I was president. We never shot a bullet or dropped a bomb, and I brought peace to other people as well – so I think peace and human rights would be my greatest concerns.”
GS: Which foreign leader do you most admire?
JC: “There are two that meant the most to me personally — Anwar Sadat (the former president of Egypt) and Menachim Begin (the former prime minister of Israel). I got to know them both intimately during the negotiation of the Camp David Accords, which led to a peace treaty between their two nations. I admired Sadat’s part in bringing peace to Israel. He was courageous, generous, far-sighted and wise.”
GS: What has been your most memorable experience in your travels around the world?
JC: “The most memorable – since I left the White House – has been working through The Carter Center to bring better health care to literally hundreds of millions of people – and working to end neglected tropical diseases afflicting people in the poorest nations.”
RC: “I have worked all over the world on mental health care issues. I think one of the most exciting things in recent years was seeing the new federal law requiring group health insurance plans to offer coverage for mental illness and addiction disease. It is gratifying to see that people will have coverage and also greater access to treatment.”
GS: Mrs. Carter, what support is needed in the field of mental health care?
RC: “Mental health is something that I have worked on for a long time, and I get very upset about it because there is such a stigma about mental illness. It is unfortunate, because people can recover and lead fulfilling lives. I think it is important for a community to gather around a person who has a mental illness and let them know it is nothing to be ashamed of — it is an illness and it can be treated.”
“One thing I would like to see is a well-baby checkup for mental health. We have learned that these illnesses begin very early in life. They are hard to detect, but if you can catch them early – the earlier the better.”
GS: What inspires you to help others?
JC: “Our religious faith and living up to what Christians should do. Rosalynn and I work for democracy, freedom, universal peace and the alleviation of suffering. We are driven to do the best we can for others.”
GS: What are your goals for 2013?
JC: “We have a lot of plans with Habitat for Humanity, and we will be building homes in San Francisco, New York and Denver. We started building houses 30 years ago in New York with Habitat. For the last few years, we have built 100 houses each year in Haiti.”
RC: “We build houses for one week each year with the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project.”
GS: When you return to Plains, what do you love the most about your hometown?
JC: “There are many things we love about our hometown. Our families have been there since the 1830s, so our relatives, our church and our memories are there. I was three years old when Rosalynn was born, and we were next door neighbors. Our church (Maranatha Baptist) is the center of our life in Plains, and I teach Sunday School every week. We have 635 people and 11 churches in Plains, and our church holds together our community.”
RC : “We go a lot of places and do a lot of things, and when we come home, it’s just Plains. The best thing is when we come home, we’re just Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. There’s no pomp and ceremony — we’re treated like regular people — like before we went into politics.”
JC: “The old people call us Rosalynn and Jimmy, and the young people call us Miss Rosalynn and Mr. Jimmy.”
GS. Are any of your grandchildren following you into politics?
JC: “Our oldest grandson Jason is a state senator (Jason is the first member of the Carter family to win an elected office since his grandfather was elected president.) “Another grandson, James, is the one that found the 47% video about Mitt Romney for Obama.” (During the 2012 presidential election, James leaked a video to the media of Romney speaking to donors at a fundraising event. In his speech, Romney said that 47% of Americans are “dependent on the government” and “believe they are victims.”) “Jamie is a natural politician, but whether he is going to go into politics, I don’t know.”
GS: What would you like to be remembered for?
JC: “Peace and human rights.”
RC: “My mental health work.”
Jamie: “I think Papa should be remembered for winning a Grammy.”
JC: “My grandchildren think a Grammy is better than winning the Nobel Peace Prize! I won a Grammy for reciting a book that I wrote called Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis. (Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. He is the second former U.S. president to win a Grammy Award.)
GS: Are you writing another book?
JC: “I am always writing. I started writing a book about my crafts…I make furniture and paint pictures. I have made furniture for Rosalynn, my children and grandchildren. Every time a grandchild is born, I have made a cradle for each of them, but now we have 35 in our family, so I have stopped.” (The Carters are expecting two more great-grandchildren this spring.) “I was going to concentrate on crafts, but I decided to write about things I’ve never written about before….my life in the Navy, why I ran for public office and things we’ve done since we left the White House.”
GS: What are your family plans this year?
JC: “We like to take a vacation with the entire family every year. In the past, we have been to Panama, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico, the Florida Keys, St. Croix and Caribbean cruises. We go to a different place every year, and we let our grandchildren decide. We pay the expenses, so everyone goes!” (laughs).
- Mary Beth Spence
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