COMMENTARY: Happy birthday, President Carter

President Jimmy Carter and his daughter Amy walking through the Carter Presidential Museum. (Credit: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library)

One of my favorite quotes from former President Jimmy Carter is this: “The best way to enhance freedom in other lands is to demonstrate here that our democratic system is worthy of emulation.”

And also this: “You can not divorce religious belief and public service. I’ve never detected any conflict between God’s will and my political duty. If you violate one, you violate the other.”

Jimmy Carter’s words resonate with me because they describe who I believe the man to be – a man of honor, humility and faith.

Carter, governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975, was president during the most formative years of my life – from age 11 to 16. When I think of him, I think of Andy Gibb, The Emotions and Stevie Wonder – the soundtracks of my youth.

Today we join the chorus of voices from around the world — Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative —  in wishing President Carter, the longest living president in U.S. history, a happy 98th birthday! 

Born on October 1 in the small town of Plains, Carter has been married to his wife, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter — who herself turned 95 on August 18 — for 76 years. To put that in perspective, that’s two years longer than the marriage of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip.

President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter dance at a White House Congressional Ball, Washington, D.C. on December 13, 1978. (Credit: Marion S. Trikosko, Jimmy Carter Presidential Library)

“Marty and I are wishing former President Jimmy Carter well on his birthday as his loved ones celebrate both his many years of life and his long, touching marriage to former First Lady Carter,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in an email message to State Affairs.

Plains Mayor L.E.”Boze” Godwin III has known President Carter since he was a child. Godwin, 79, remembers seeing Plains’ most famous citizen as a young man unloading farmers’ pickup trucks filled with peanuts. 

Except for the few occasions where he sees Carter at church, Godwin said today he rarely sees Carter. 

Carter’s years as Georgia’s 76th governor and America’s 39th president never distanced him from his upbringing that included eating turnip greens and peas “like the rest of us,” Godwin said. 

“Even when he was president, he didn’t change,” Godwin said. “He’s one of our best-loved citizens. He has always been concerned about Plains and still is. He still does anything he can to help the city or somebody in the town.” Carter is so rooted in Plains, Godwin said, that  “after death, [Carter is planning] to be buried across the street from his house here in town. He knows it will increase tourism.

“Our community’s kind of like a family, black, white, whatever. It’s a small, small community,” Godwin said. “He’s just a member of the community.”

Frankly, none of that surprises me.

State Affairs’ senior investigative reporter Tammy Joyner and Joy Walstrum, audience engagement and social media consultant, contributed to this report.


President Jimmy Carter and his daughter Amy walking through the Carter Presidential Museum. (Credit: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum)

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