Thinking of President Jimmy Carter

More than a Day Away by Mike Steely

I learned recently that former President Jimmy Carter had returned home to live out his final days in home hospice in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. Over the years, my wife and I had many occasions to visit Carter places after a chance encounter with this very interesting man.

As a reporter, I’ve had encounters with several past presidential places including Franklin Roosevelt’s summer home in Georgia, Bill Clinton’s childhood home in Hope, Arkansas, and the Woodrow Wilson, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson homes in Virginia.

I’ve seen Barack Obama address Pellissippi College. Dwight Eisenhower visited Kentucky when I was a child and I was a doorkeeper at his Washington, D.C., funeral. I saw Ronald Reagan open the Knoxville World’s Fair. I was, as a Coast Guardsman, in the inaugural parade for Richard Nixon.

But my most fond memory is of Jimmy Carter. He was heading a senatorial campaign push at a convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1973. He had served as Georgia’s governor and had yet to announce for president. Carter addressed a sparsely-attended meeting in a small assembly room and most of the attendees quickly left for other functions, leaving Carter alone to shake hands and chat.

My wife and I stayed around and went over to talk with him. He was friendly, open, bright and very approachable. I don’t remember what we talked about but we spent several minutes alone with him. We came away very impressed and happy for the conversation.

I was vice-chairman of the Tennessee Young Democrats when Carter announced he would seek the nomination. Along with Will Cheek of Nashville, I became a vice-chair of Carter’s campaign in our state. Carter carried Tennessee in his first bid for the office.

I recall picking up Carter’s son, Chip, and his wife at the Tri-State Airport and driving them to various campaign functions in the Johnson City areas. He was elected for one term and I recall a tour of the White House along with other tourists.

Carter’s term there was not without conflict and the American hostage situation in Iran doomed his re-election. He took the defeat well and returned to his beloved Plains home. Unlike many former presidents, Jimmy Carter continued to be involved with civil and voting rights and the campaigns of other people.

We visited the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta and were astonished at the many things Carter was involved in, from his childhood through his military service to his terms as governor and president. One section in the building shows his involvement with Habitat for Humanity’s home building for low-income Americans.

While visiting in Plains once, my wife and I visited his childhood school, now a museum, and his small childhood home just outside town. I remember inviting him to a Knoxville event several years ago and getting a letter saying he sadly could not attend.

Jimmy and Rosalynn have been married for 76 years and have been partners in all their endeavors. Both are people of faith and Carter taught Sunday School in Plains for many years. He said his faith sustained them.

At the age of 98, Jimmy Carter remains a favorite for several people and proved that almost anyone can rise from obscurity to become the leader of the most powerful free nation in the world. He remained humble and honorable all his life.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have been partners in many efforts and both have taken part in the building of Habitat homes well into their senior years.