Presidents Day

This was not an ordinary President’s Day.  President Jimmy Carter, a hero of mine, 98, went to home hospice to be with family.

About the same time, President Joe Biden visited with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev.

For all of us, there is a time to die.  Sunset seems to be near for President Jimmy Carter, at the end of a life well lived.

I have always had immense respect for President Carter, the peanut farmer from Plains, extraordinarily talented and qualified to be President.

In his ill-fated year of 1980, I was an activist for his reelection, up to and including attending a briefing in the Cabinet room of the White House (he wasn’t there).  The photo at the end of the post is from that afternoon at the White House.

In the summer of 1977, enroute to Florida, son Tom and I stopped in Plains (pop. about 700), saw the Peanut Warehouse, and Billy Carters Gas Station.  Here’s a photo from that trip.  No I didn’t stop to say hi to Billy, or get gas, or buy any Billy Beer later!  The Carter home was not accessible, of course.  But I was glad we took the side trip off of I-75.

Plains GA June, 1977 photo Dick Bernard

Downtown Plains from “The Search for Jimmy Carter” by Tom Collins Word Inc 1976.   The aerial view helps me pinpoint exactly where I was when I took the photo at top.

I can recall seeing him only one time in person, that on March 6, 2015 at the Augsburg Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis.  He had been to the Forum one previous time.  He was the sound of elder wisdom.

Jimmy Carter March 6, 2015 Minneapolis photo Dick Bernard

He was 90 when I saw him.  He gave an excellent speech, on the topic of human rights.  He walked the talk.  Augsburg, host for the forum, has this in its archive about the 2015 appearance.

I’m proud to have been a contributing member since 1994 to the Carter Center, which continues to do amazing work around the world.  The last solicitation letter, dated early February, didn’t suggest the recent news of his illness: Carter Center Letter Feb 2023.  The Carter Center will continue to thrive when he’s gone.

There is a great deal more I could say, but no need.  I have over a dozen of his books, including the courageous and controversial one “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” from 2006.  I have some audio tapes from his Sunday school classes at Plains, and I’ve followed his career since he first ran for national office beginning in 1975.  He and Rosalynn made their mark, and made it most positively.

Tomorrow I’ll take time to listen to his audiotapes from his book “The Virtues of Aging”  (1998).  Thankfully, I still have a cassette player that works.

And who can forget Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and Habitat for Humanity.

There will be reams of content about President Carter, and I have no qualification to add to the written record except to say that he was an exceptional man in the most positive sense of the word, and the U.S. is fortunate to have had him in our service.

Thank you, Jimmy Carter.

Dick Bernard, January, 1980 White House, Washington DC

This morning, back home after coffee, I learned that President Biden had been in Kyvv, Ukraine in a show of solidarity with the people of Ukraine.  The news is full of details everyone will know.   The White House informed the Kremlin of President Biden’s surprise visit in advance of the trip, I understand.

It is mindful of other events.  In 1962, I was in the Army at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  We soldiers and we citizens knew little about the crisis.  In my memory, there was communication between Kruschev and Kennedy which we didn’t know about till later.  Even in war, or threat of war, there are attempts to keep communication lines open.

Carter had to contend with his own international crisis: the Iranian hostages; the spike in gasoline prices – none within his control.

The United States is part of the world, not a nation set apart.  We cannot pretend that what happens somewhere does not affect us here.  It is a difficult transition for the America first and only folks, but it is a reality and has been for a long time.

I’m glad President Biden went to Ukraine; I’m glad there was communication with the adversary.  Every such action is part of “negotiation”, slow and tortuous, but essential.

Jimmy Carter, Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelensky are all human beings like us all.  Like them, each of us has the capacity to make a difference in our world.

COMMENTS (more below):

from Fred: Nice job, Dick. I’m am and always will be an admirer of, very possibly, the most authentic and gracious human being ever to serve as president.

from David: Very good article on Jimmy Carter. A man who is everything that so many of our “leaders” aren’t and never will be: “Jimmy Carter’s Presidency Was Not What You Think” Kai Bird NYT Feb 20, 2023: Jimmy Carter by Kai Bird NYT Feb 20 2023

from Florence: Thanks for sharing! [friend] Hanna E’s destination on her bike ride to the east coast, now several years ago, was rewarded with a visit to Jimmy Carter’s home and him signing a poster for her.

from Mary: Love the Carter stories……I have visited Plains a few times [early 1980s, after the presidency] and it is reminiscent of some towns in Dakota..  Inspired by Jimmy Carters mom I thought of her often as I went through the process of signing up for the Peace Corps at age 70.  Plains survives because of the Carter legacy…….things may change in the future.  Unlike you I ate peanuts and drank Billy beer. Actually thought it was quite awful.

Response from Dick: Florence and Mary are my sisters.  Re: the Billy Beer comment, I was in Plains in June, 1977, and Billy Beer did not come on the market till July of 1977…makes no difference, I’m not a drinker anyway.  I do remember that Billy Beer cans were the rage for beer can collectors for awhile.

Feb. 27 from Molly: Here is an excellent article that talks about how little-recognized Carter’s work in foreign policy truly was–prescient, actually, in many cases…sigh

Feb. 27 from Dick:  The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune on Feb. 26 carried a long editorial about President Carter’s impact.  Here is the article: Jimmy Carter Mpls Star 2 26 23
Mar. 20 from Dick: Peter Baker column in March 18, New York Times: Carter Iran Peter Baker
4 replies
  1. David Thofern
    David Thofern says:

    One would hope that in today’s political world–or any other world–that there would still be a place for a man, or woman, such as Jimmy Carter. The man epitomizes the word “grace.”

  2. Kathleen Valdez
    Kathleen Valdez says:

    Thank you Dick for your reflection and for your gracious words about two inspiring humans who happen to also be U. S. presidents. We need courageous leaders… including yourself.
    Thanks for the blessing-

  3. norman westgaard hanson
    norman westgaard hanson says:

    Carterr is such a positive and credible contrast to the insecure, ignorant, arrogant, narcissistic, five-time draft dodging man-child who would be king!

  4. Molly Redmond
    Molly Redmond says:

    Thanks, Dick, for this excellent article.
    Indeed, it makes me feel a bit weepy about saying farewell to this good man who’s given this country–and the world– so much.
    And done it with such quiet love, humility, and grace.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.