“The un-celebrity president: Jimmy Carter shuns riches, lives modestly in his Georgia hometown”
by Bob Schwartz
The Washington Post story on the current life of former American president Jimmy Carter (excerpted below) is worthwhile and uplifting, even if you do not think much of Carter’s presidency, even if you are not an American.
It is the story of a good, faithful and humble man of 93 who loves his country, loves his God, and especially loves his wife of 72 years. A man who wanted to serve and did, and does not believe that his former exalted position entitles him to more than an average portion—even though most recent past presidents have assumed an entitlement to much more.
In these times, it is more than moving to read this story. It is a privilege to share a country with Jimmy Carter and know that this is possible. It must be possible.
The un-celebrity president
Story by Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan
Jimmy Carter finishes his Saturday night dinner, salmon and broccoli casserole on a paper plate, flashes his famous toothy grin and calls playfully to his wife of 72 years, Rosalynn: “C’mon, kid.”
She laughs and takes his hand, and they walk carefully through a neighbor’s kitchen filled with 1976 campaign buttons, photos of world leaders and a couple of unopened cans of Billy Beer, then out the back door, where three Secret Service agents wait.
They do this just about every weekend in this tiny town where they were born — he almost 94 years ago, she almost 91. Dinner at their friend Jill Stuckey’s house, with plastic Solo cups of ice water and one glass each of bargain-brand chardonnay, then the half-mile walk home to the ranch house they built in 1961….
The 39th president of the United States lives modestly, a sharp contrast to his successors, who have left the White House to embrace power of another kind: wealth.
Even those who didn’t start out rich, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have made tens of millions of dollars on the private-sector opportunities that flow so easily to ex-presidents.
TOP: The Carters have dinner at their friend Jill Stuckey’s house, where they drank ice water out of plastic Solo cups and each had a glass of bargain-brand chardonnay. LEFT: Carter enjoys his Saturday night dinner at Stuckey’s house on a paper plate. RIGHT: The Carters hold hands as they walk home. The couple — he, almost 94, and she, almost 91 — have been married 72 years.
When Carter left the White House after one tumultuous term, trounced by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, he returned to Plains, a speck of peanut and cotton farmland that to this day has a nearly 40 percent poverty rate.
The Democratic former president decided not to join corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn’t want to “capitalize financially on being in the White House.”…
“I don’t see anything wrong with it; I don’t blame other people for doing it,” Carter says over dinner. “It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”
Carter was 56 when he returned to Plains from Washington. He says his peanut business, held in a blind trust during his presidency, was $1 million in debt, and he was forced to sell.
“We thought we were going to lose everything,” says Rosalynn, sitting beside him.
Carter decided that his income would come from writing, and he has written 33 books, about his life and career, his faith, Middle East peace, women’s rights, aging, fishing, woodworking, even a children’s book written with his daughter, Amy Carter, called “The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer.”
With book income and the $210,700 annual pension all former presidents receive, the Carters live comfortably. But his books have never fetched the massive sums commanded by more recent presidents….
Carter is the only president in the modern era to return full-time to the house he lived in before he entered politics — a two-bedroom rancher assessed at $167,000, less than the value of the armored Secret Service vehicles parked outside….
Carter costs U.S. taxpayers less than any other ex-president, according to the General Services Administration, with a total bill for him in the current fiscal year of $456,000, covering pensions, an office, staff and other expenses. That’s less than half the $952,000 budgeted for George H.W. Bush; the three other living ex-presidents — Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama — cost taxpayers more than $1 million each per year.
Carter doesn’t even have federal retirement health benefits because he worked for the government for four years — less than the five years needed to qualify, according to the GSA. He says he receives health benefits through Emory University, where he has taught for 36 years.
The Plains general store, once owned by Carter’s Uncle Buddy, sells Carter memorabilia and scoops of peanut butter ice cream in honor of Carter, who was a peanut farmer.
The federal government pays for an office for each ex-president. Carter’s, in the Carter Center in Atlanta, is the least expensive, at $115,000 this year. The Carters could have built a more elaborate office with living quarters, but for years they slept on a pullout couch for a week each month. Recently, they had a Murphy bed installed….
Carter’s gait is a little unsteady these days, three years after a diagnosis of melanoma on his liver and brain. At a 2015 news conference to announce his illness, he seemed to be bidding a stoic farewell, saying he was “perfectly at ease with whatever comes.”
But now, after radiation and chemotherapy, Carter says he is cancer-free….
When Carter looks back at his presidency, he says he is most proud of “keeping the peace and supporting human rights,” the Camp David accords that brokered peace between Israel and Egypt, and his work to normalize relations with China. In 2002, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
“I always told the truth,” he says.
Carter has been notably quiet about President Trump. But on this night, two years into Trump’s term, he’s not holding back.
“I think he’s a disaster,” Carter says. “In human rights and taking care of people and treating people equal.”
“The worst is that he is not telling the truth, and that just hurts everything,” Rosalynn says.
Carter says his father taught him that truthfulness matters. He said that was reinforced at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he said students are expelled for telling even the smallest lie.
“I think there’s been an attitude of ignorance toward the truth by President Trump,” he says….
He points out the Plains United Methodist Church, where he spotted young Eleanor Rosalynn Smith one evening when he was home from the Naval Academy.
He asked her out. They went to a movie, and the next morning he told his mother he was going to marry Rosalynn.
“I didn’t know that for years,” she says with a smile.
They are asked if there is anything they want but don’t have.
“I can’t think of anything,” Carter says, turning to Rosalynn. “And you?”
“No, I’m happy,” she says.
“We feel at home here,” Carter says. “And the folks in town, when we need it, they take care of us.”
Every other Sunday morning, Carter teaches Sunday school at the Maranatha Baptist Church on the edge of town, and people line up the night before to get a seat.
This Sunday morning happens to be his 800th lesson since he left the White House.
He walks in wearing a blazer too big through the shoulders, a striped shirt and a turquoise bolo tie. He asks where people have come from, and from the pews they call out at least 20 states, Canada, Kenya, China and Denmark.
He tells the congregation that he’s planning a trip to Montana to go fishing with his friend Ted Turner, and that he’s going to ride in his son’s autogiro — a sort of mini-helicopter.
“I’m still fairly active,” he says, and everyone laughs….
They walk past a pond, which Carter helped dig and where he now works on his fly-fishing technique. They point out a willow tree at the pond’s edge, on a gentle sloping lawn, where they will be buried in graves marked by simple stones.
They know their graves will draw tourists and boost the Plains economy….
Their house is dated, but homey and comfortable, with a rustic living room and a small kitchen. A cooler bearing the presidential seal sits on the floor in the kitchen — Carter says they use it for leftovers….
On this summer morning, Rosalynn mixes pancake batter and sprinkles in blueberries grown on their land.
Carter cooks them on the griddle.
Then he does the dishes.