By Susan Reynolds
No matter your politics, every American admires former President Jimmy Carter, and rightly so. In the three plus decades since he left office, he has become one of our nation’s foremost activists, in the name of peace, conservation, and the health and welfare of children in poverty and plagued by disease in third world countries. He’s been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts—among a host of other national and international awards—and virtually eradicated Guinea worm disease from approximately 3.5 millions cases in 1986 to only 15 cases so far in 2015—an astounding achievement by any measure.
The 39th U. S. president and his wife, Rosalynn, have long been champions of health and welfare at home, and around the world. They still volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and are active at The Carter Center, which they founded in 1986, in partnership with Emory University, whose mission is to encourage a fundamental commitment to human rights and alleviation of human suffering, in addition to preventing and resolving international conflicts, enhancing freedom and democracy, and improving health around the world.
Since 2007, President Carter also has served as a member of The Elders, a group of independent global leaders, which had also included Nelson Mandela. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for “his work to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights and to promote economic and social development.”
His family values
In addition to all of those accomplishments, Jimmy and Rosalynn have been married since 1946 and have three sons, one daughter, nine grandsons, three granddaughters, four great-grandsons, and six great-granddaughters.
In a recent interview with CNN newsman Jake Tapper, Carter called Rosalynn “the foundation for my entire enjoyment of life.” When Tapper asked what the secret of a happy marriage was, Carter said, “It’s best to choose the right woman, which I did, and secondly we give each other space to do our own things. We try to be reconciled before we go to sleep at night, and try to find everything we can think of that we like to do together. So, we have a lot of good times. We have a big family now. We have 22 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, 38 of us in all. So, we try to hold our family together and just enjoy the family life.” The family typically spends the week after Christmas on a group vacation, focused solely on family togetherness.
While holding the family together, and fulfilling many other duties as a humanitarian, he’s written twenty-seven books, and Rosalynn’s penned four. The former president’s 29th book, A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety, was recently published.
He also occasionally still teaches Sunday school and is a deacon in the Maranatha Baptist Church of Plains. In recent weeks, since revealing he is battling cancer, hundreds of people line up every week to visit the church to meet the former president and express their affection and gratitude.
Why we love him
When it comes to the reasons why the former President has become so beloved, the list is long, impressive, and diverse. Not only is he a prolific author and dedicated (together with Rosalynn) to doing good works with Habitat for Humanity, The Carter Foundation, and The Carter Presidential Library, he continues to fight for global peace and lifting millions out of poverty. Out of wisdom and thoughtful contemplation, Jimmy Carter has become a global spokesman for morality and consciousness, earning the respect of multiple generations. So, let’s discuss why our former president is the ideal role model for humanitarian work going forward.
He champions women’s rights
In recently revealing that he is battling cancer, the ninety-one-year-old Carter noted that he hopes to spend whatever time he has left supporting women’s rights. “This is going to be the highest priority for the rest of my life,” he said. According to news reports, he’s doing it at the urging of wife, Rosalynn, and for his daughter, three granddaughters, and five great-granddaughters, so they can have the same opportunities and security that men do.
He’s long been so dedicated to women’s rights that he severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention—after six decades—over its rejection of women in leadership. He wrote an article in 2009 entitled “Losing My Religion for Equality,” noting that: “Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.”
The letter has been shared more than 900,000 times on social networks. He also wrote a book entitled, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, urging world leader to take action on women’s rights. He mailed copies to world leaders and reported receiving replies from about 45 people, including Pope Francis.
He supports Habitat for Humanity
Since 1984, President and Mrs. Carter have given one week of their time each year to help Habitat for Humanity improve and build homes in the U.S. and around the world. “President Carter’s involvement with Habitat for Humanity over the past 31 years has helped put Habitat for Humanity’s work and mission on the map,” said Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International. “He has been a strong example of servant leadership and putting faith into action. We are grateful for his commitment to helping us address adequate housing needs around the world.”
The Carters’ first volunteer experience with Habitat for Humanity was in March 1984 in Americus, Georgia, where Habitat for Humanity was founded. Later that same year, they joined Habitat for Humanity volunteers in New York City to renovate an abandoned building in partnership with a low-income family. That event marked Habitat for Humanity’s first Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, an annual build week that has taken place for more than three decades. President and Mrs. Carter’s involvement with Habitat for Humanity has inspired countless volunteers to follow in their footsteps and has helped raise awareness around the need for decent and affordable housing. Since its founding in 1976, Habitat for Humanity has helped more than 5 million people improve their living conditions by partnering with them to build or improve a place they can call home.
He’s a world-renowned humanitarian
When he lost the presidency to George H. Bush in 1980, President Carter didn’t sit around nursing his wounds. Instead, he—along with his lifelong love Rosalynn—launched a whole new chapter in his life. In partnership with Atlanta’s Emory University, President Carter and Rosalynn spearheaded development of The Carter Center. Through it, Mr. and Mrs. Carter and their colleagues seek to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health worldwide. A nongovernmental organization, the Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers to increase crop production. “We try things that might succeed,” Carter explained in a Rolling Stone interview. “If they don’t succeed, that’s OK. Some things that look unachievable, we achieve.”
He eradicates diseases
Carter is currently within reach of a major accomplishment—eradicating a life-threatening disease. It’s been a long battle for Carter, who began fighting the Guinea worm 30 years ago, because it was “such a horrible and filthy, indescribably bad disease.” It’s contracted from water contaminated with Guinea worm larvae and causes painful skin lesions. “Nobody else wanted to take it on,” Carter said.” So I decided to take it on . . . [and] we are getting close,” Carter told George Stephanopoulos in a Good Morning America interview. “We started out with 23,600 villages, twenty countries, and 3.5 million cases of Guinea worm, and we’ve cut it down now. Last year, we had 126 cases.” His latest report said they are down to 11 cases.
If Carter and his team at The Carter Center are successful in dispelling Guinea worm, it reportedly will be only the second time in history, after the eradication of smallpox, that a disease has been completely eradicated. “I think this is going to be a great achievement for—not for me—but for the people that have been afflicted and for the entire world to see diseases like this eradicated,” Carter said.
He’s a passionate environmentalist
Throughout his presidency, Jimmy Carter outlined an ambitious plan for environmental protection, encompassing programs from pollution control to protecting wildlife and habitats. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 was one of the most comprehensive conservation acts in American history, setting aside more wild country than had been preserved anywhere in the world—104 million acres of new national parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands. While creating an unparalleled system of federal reserves protecting wildlife, fish, and wilderness, the legislation also allowed for some development of natural resources and the commercial use of vast areas of the North Slope—leaving available for development 95 percent of Alaska’s most promising oil-bearing lands.
We also have Jimmy Carter to thank for establishing Grandparents Day in 1978.
“We still have a great nation with a long way to go. I had a very challenging question at Emory [University] the other night: ‘How would you describe the United States of America today in one word?’ And I didn’t know what to say for a few moments, but I finally said, ‘Searching.’ I think the country in which we live is still searching for what it ought to be, and what it can be, and I’m not sure we’re making much progress right at this moment.”
Susan Reynolds is Grand’s Editor and has authored or edited more then 45 nonfiction books, includingTrain Your Brain to Get Happy, Meditation for Moms, Adams Media¹s My Hero anthology series (Mother, Father, Teacher, Dog), and Woodstock Revisited. She owns a literary consulting business in Boston.