Commentary: What Jimmy Carter taught me about being a public servant and reading a compass

Mayor of Plains Boze Godwin and his wife Betty
Feb 22, 2023

By Mayor L.E. “Boze” Godwin (as told to Tammy Joyner)

Editor’s note: News of President Carter’s entry into home hospice care has deeply touched people worldwide but none more so than the people in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. Plains Mayor L.E. “Boze” Godwin’s earliest memory of the president goes back 70 years when, as a young boy, he delivered medicine to the Carters from his father’s pharmacy. Godwin, 79, spoke exclusively with State Affairs reporter Tammy Joyner. Here, in his own words, are his reflections of Carter’s influence on him and the legacy the former president is leaving in his hometown of over 550 residents.

- Alison Bethel, editor-in-chief

Just about every boy I knew growing up belonged to a Boy Scout troop. My Boy Scout leader went on to become governor of Georgia and the 39th president of the United States.

Mr. Jimmy taught me a lot about life, being a public servant and how to use a compass.

I was around 10 years old when he gave me a compass and sent me behind his warehouse. You had to go so many steps and turn and all this kind of stuff. The weeds were over my head. So I don’t know if he was sending me on a compass course or he was just trying to get rid of me. It took me about 30 minutes to figure my way out of there. I think he was surprised I got out at all but that experience taught me to have confidence in myself and to do the best you can with what you’ve got.

That was about 70 years ago and he’s been my friend ever since.

I don’t consider myself a politician. I’m a servant of the people. I think that's how he sees himself and he has truly been like that. The biggest influence he had on me was to just be aware of the needs of other people and then try to treat everybody like you want to be treated, with dignity and respect. 

He is a man who walked the talk.

He just wanted to be part of the community and serve other people and be treated just like everybody else. He’s one of our oldest and best-loved citizens. 

As a kid, I remember watching him unload farmers’ pickup trucks full of peanuts. He’d shovel the peanuts out of the beds of the trucks onto the conveyor belt at his family’s peanut business in Plains. He’d just left the Navy. He was a trained nuclear engineer and naval officer but he was like the rest of us. He didn’t mind working.

He’s always been concerned about Plains. He’s done anything that he can to help the city or somebody in the town who needs help.

He’s responsible for getting our Inn — Plains Historic Inn  & Antiques Mall — here. It’s got seven bedrooms and Rosalynn decorated it. We also got the Boys and Girls Club here because of him. Even in death, he’ll be trying to help the town because he’s going to be buried in Plains, right across from his house.

Our citizens are really proud of the town. If you ride through Plains and then ride through and see some of the other small towns, we’re different. We have a program called Plains Better Hometown. It sponsors different events like the fireworks on the Fourth of July and Christmas events. He was really involved in that. He was on the board.  He did everything he could. He signed autographs so they could raise money to do projects.

Until a few years ago, my wife and I had a birthday supper for him every year at our house for about 10 years. We’d have a low-country boil or barbecue. Different things. There’d be about 20 people, he and his wife and his friends and nobody that would try to pin him up politically.

Right now we’re just saying prayers for him and his family. I try not to linger on his situation or my memories of him or reflect on what he means to me too much because, to be honest with you, I get upset. I love him that much. 

Do you have memories of former President Jimmy Carter or his family? We would love to hear from you. Reach out on social media at:

Twitter @StateAffairsGA
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Facebook @stateaffairsUS
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Read more on President Carter:

Jimmy Carter: From Plains to prominence

COMMENTARY: He is 'Mr. Jimmy' to me

Q & A: Americus Mayor Lee Kinnamon on Jimmy Carter: “… a giant man, who never lost his connection to this little place”

Chick-fil-A board chairman Dan Cathy reflects on Jimmy Carter’s ‘profound’ legacy

Jimmy Carter: A look at his Georgia

Header image: Mayor L.E. "Boze" Godwin and his wife Betty celebrating in Plains on July 3, 2021. (Credit: Steve Short)