Former President Jimmy Carter at an October 2010 event celebrating a work project on World Habitat Day. Photo: National Archives, 2010.

News that former President Jimmy Carter has entered home hospice care should give pause to Americans from Georgia to Hawaii. His shining light for bolstering humanity is dimming, but his remarkable example of generating good for real change will never go away.

Carter, born 98 years ago, grew up on a rural farm in Plains, Ga., when trains were a common form of transportation. There were no interstates, information superhighways, fax machines, computers, emails or texts. Social media and instant communication to the other side of the world were the things of science fiction. Cars broke down a lot. Phones were elementary. Times were hard. A Depression was around the corner.

In An Hour Before Daylight, Carter described struggles on farms across the South: “Despite the extreme rural poverty that prevailed at the time, Southern farm population increased by 1.3 million between 1930 and 1935, as desperate people lost their jobs in failing factories, left their urban homes, and eventually wound up in places like our community.”

In this environment, Carter grew to form a value system based on family, community and church. Then, as in recent years, he believed in things that may seem old-fashioned in today’s interconnected world — faith, honor, doing the right thing, helping others and moving forward for the betterment of all.

Carter, governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975, swept into the presidency in 1977 after the international embarrassment of the Watergate scandal when Americans were looking for a decent man to be president. A Democrat, he carried the South and much of the Northeast, but failed to win much else. Carter’s presidency didn’t set Washington on fire as he often didn’t play by its rules. By today’s standards, that would make him popular, but those were different times. Carter was an outsider as the country struggled to get out of an economic malaise and an energy crisis.

Yet Carter had successes. He pushed energy conservation during a time of profligate energy waste and when no one had heard of climate change. He promoted airline deregulation. He created the federal departments of education and energy as cabinet-level agencies. He boosted funding for Head Start and other safety net programs.

After losing the 1980 election, Carter didn’t sit idly by. He embarked on a post-presidential career that set the gold standard for public service. He wrote more than 30 books and established the Carter Center in Atlanta, which promotes peace and human rights and monitors international elections. 

One of his most astounding successes was his leadership to eradicate water-borne Guinea worm disease that once affected millions. In 2022, only 13 cases were documented worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. It may soon become the world’s second human disease to be eradicated.

During his life after the presidency, Carter also often was on construction sites helping to build houses for Habitat for Humanity. He even showed up for work while recovering from cancer. That’s toughness. That’s resilience. That’s commitment.

Let’s offer thanks for this gentle giant of a man who has had the longest post-presidential career and who will continue to inspire Americans for generations. Let’s honor his strength, faith and zealous commitment to democratic values as shining examples of what’s still right in America.

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