Credit: Courtesy of the Carter Center, photo by Jill Stuckey
Jimmy Carter at 98: grandson reflects on a life rooted in service
Josh Carter on millennial voters and Jimmy Carter's presidency.
Jimmy Carter turns 98 on Oct. 1, 2022, and the Carter Center is promoting a birthday theme this year that centers around the former U.S. president's Georgia roots and life of service. The family is helping to get the word out, too.
Jimmy Carter may be just two years shy of a century old, but there's more to celebrate about the man than his age, says grandson Josh Carter, 38.
In addition to his time in the White House, Jimmy Carter has been a farmer, Navy man, Georgia state senator and governor, advocate for Habitat for Humanity, author of dozens of books and, until a few years ago, a Sunday school teacher at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter cofounded the Carter Center in 1982 to wage peace and fight disease around the world.
In 2020, Josh Carter launched a podcast called Unchanging Principles, which provides insight into his relationship with his grandparents – who still reside in the Plains home they lived in before entering politics. He is the Carters' fourth grandchild and the oldest son of Jeff and Annette Carter.
Josh Carter spoke with GPB News ahead of Jimmy Carter's birthday to discuss his grandfather's life and legacy:
On naming his podcast after a line from Jimmy Carter's 1977 inaugural address:
Josh Carter: So the line that my grandfather said in his inaugural address, he said at his Nobel Peace Prize ceremony [in 2002], and said it a lot throughout his life as kind of a guiding principle... [it is a line] his schoolteacher, Ms. Julia Coleman, told him when he was in high school in Plains: 'We must adjust to changing times and still hold true to unchanging principles' ... [and] wrapped up in that is his key message that the world is going to change, as we see it, accelerating dramatically. But what we do with that change is we need to have our rock solid foundation of what we stand for ... whether our personal foundation or as a country.
And when I saw the events in, you know, 2016 and 2020, I felt like a lot of the things that I kind of held as 'givens' for the United States were being attacked, were being minimized. You know, I saw in particular democracy in decline, the rise for strongmen. And it's not just United States, but all across the world. But when I look at what's happening in United States elections being challenged. And just, you know, gaslighting and just a government that wasn't serving its people and didn't seem interested in serving those people. That's what kind of spurred me to take the lessons that I had learned from my grandfather and put it out there in a podcast to let people know, 'OK, these are the core beliefs that were passed to me from my grandfather.'
On woodworking with Jimmy Carter:
Josh Carter: My grandfather has always been a man that has worked with his hands. You know, he was a farmer. He went into government for a couple of years and came back as a farmer. He loves being out in the woods and he loved working with his hands. And one of the things that I had that was probably the most, you know, the closest relationship that I had, from a grandson to a grandpa relationship, was him teaching me woodworking. And I was probably the only grandkid that got really involved with woodworking.
But when he was in the White House, when he went home after he lost the 1980 election, he got word that his staff was pulling money together to get him a Jeep to run around his farmland back home in Plains. And he said he didn't want a Jeep because he 'has a Secret Service now' and 'they're going to drive me where I need to go.' But he did let it be known that he would like a woodshop. And he turned his garage into a woodshop that he had from 1981 up until a couple of years ago. And he made hundreds of pieces in his woodshop, and he wrote a book about it called, The Craftsmanship of Jimmy Carter, which has a lot of his projects in it.
But when I was growing up, the Carter Center had an annual fundraiser every year in February, and it was a ski trip. And every year at the fundraiser, he would auction off a piece of furniture that he made. So every year when I was at his house for Christmas, I would always go into the shop from when I was eight until like well through college. I would work on the projects that he was working on. I think I worked on every single piece that he made for the auction.
On Jimmy Carter's goal to eradicate guinea worm:
Josh Carter: When the Carter Center started the Guinea worm program, there were three and a half million cases a year in 1986. And now, as of last year, 2021, there were only 15 cases. And so far this year we've only counted six cases. And most are in Chad and there's one in South Sudan. So we're very close. And my grandfather kept telling me that he hopes the last Guinea worm dies before he dies. And he's wished that every year since his 90th birthday. So I'm very hopeful that this year will be the last year of Guinea worm on the planet. We're very close to getting rid of this disease. And as it would be, he told me, it is his greatest achievement. The White House and the Nobel Peace Prize were great. But getting rid of the Guinea worm, a biblical disease, is one of his life goals.
And I guess those three lessons that he taught me from the Guinea worm program and also about the health programs is that, you know, health care is a human right. And he really wanted to make sure that we understood that health care is important globally and that he did this because he believes firmly that easing people's suffering is a noble cause, and one that is making other people's lives better is a worthy goal for anything. And you don't have to have a global reach to be able to help somebody. It could be that you're helping somebody in your family. It could be that you're helping somebody in your community. But if you are seeking to ease human suffering to make someone's life better, that is a worthy life goal.
On Jimmy Carter's appeal to younger voters:
Josh Carter: My cousin Jason said at one of the Carter Center events that Jimmy Carter might be remembered as the first 'millennial president.' Which sounds really weird to any millennial sitting out there listening for a president who was elected in 1976. But if you look at his legacy, he put solar panels on the roof of the White House. He strove towards clean energy. He expanded the National Park Service ... He started the Department of Energy, Department of Education.
It is both depressing and helpful to look at all the stuff that he has fought, back in 1977 to today. We still have those problems ... we started fighting those problems back in the late seventies. We started fighting global warming back then. We started looking at alternative and renewable, clean energy. Back then we started looking at protecting the planet. We started looking at protecting, you know, democracy. We started looking at being good stewards of our land and our nation.
So I think that when millennials and an even newer generation start looking at the legacy of Jimmy Carter and kind of getting away from the scandals of that era, you know, getting away from the Nixon scandal, getting away from the Iran hostage crisis, getting away from inflation and start looking at the principles that he was pushing forward. You know, he was pushing forward for energy independence, for taking care of our planet, for educating and feeding people. I mean, he was a president that was ahead of his time, I believe. And I think that when we look back at his presidency from today's vantage point, from a 2022 vantage point, well, we'll find a lot of wisdom in the challenges that we face today.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Those interested in submitting a birthday message to Jimmy Carter may do so on the Carter Center's website.