I was saddened today to read of former President Jimmy Carter’s cancer diagnosis. The 90 year old ex-president announced today that he has cancer that began in his liver and has spread to other parts of his body. Carter, our nation’s 39th president, served in that office from 1979-1981. He and Walter Mondale defeated incumbent Gerald Ford and were defeated for a second term by Ronald Reagan.
During his presidency he was mocked for his “down home” folksy manner, his cardigan sweaters, and his devout Christian faith. He was mocked as being naive and ineffective. His chances of reelection were seriously damaged by his inability to get cooperation for his agenda from Washington, a stagnant economy, high interest rates and inflation. His reelection was further hampered by his failure to secure release of Americans taken hostage by Iran.
Still, during his presidency, Carter pardoned Americans who left the country rather than fight in the Viet Nam War. He navigated the country through a devastating fuel crisis and brokered several peace deals. No one, to my memory, ever accused him of illegal behavior, infidelity, or being bought off by powerful money interests. No one questioned his faithfulness to God, his country, or his family.
Since he left office, President Carter has continued to live his life of service to God and to the world. In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to negotiate peaceful settlements to conflicts around the world. Rather than sitting in his office congratulating himself on his accomplishments or making speeches for tens of thousands of dollars, President Carter has worked tirelessly to make the world a better, more peaceful place.
President Carter and his wife, Rosalyn, have spent many hours working on Habitat for Humanity houses. They have done more than show up for photo ops. They have provided funds and have pounded nails and painted walls to make homes available for those who had no place to live.
Carter, through his nonprofit, the Carter Foundation, has fought disease and poverty around the world. His agency has been instrumental in nearly eliminating the devastation and pain caused by Guinea worm in Africa. He has fought mosquito born illnesses in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Besides pounding nails, visiting Africa, negotiating peace accords and making fund raising appearances for his and other nonprofits, he has written 23 books.
Few, if any, other presidents have lived such a remarkable and tireless life after their stay in the White House. The impact he has had will continue long after he is no longer in this life. History will remember President Carter as a great man and a statesman. The whole of his remarkable life will be the measure of the man. He may not be ready to rest yet.
Most of us could never come close to the accomplishments of this great, but humble, American. The lesson, however, is not that we strive to become President and do what Jimmy Carter has done. To follow his example, however, of honesty, sincerity, compassion and service to others is something we all can strive for in our own way.