President Jimmy

By Stephen Usery Chapter16org | News Sentinel, July 19, 2015 | Go to article overview

President Jimmy


Stephen Usery Chapter16org, News Sentinel


Jimmy Carter was 52 years old when he was elected president of the United States in 1976. His time in the White House was, as he puts it, "the pinnacle of my political life," but they were only four years in a life built of service -- to his family, to his faith, to his country, and to the world -- that has now spanned more than nine decades. This is Carter's 29th book, but in his new memoir, "A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety" (Simon & Schuster, 272 pages), he looks back for the first time across the full span of his life, from his childhood in Plains through his years in the Navy and his return to the family farm in Georgia, from his political career to his later philanthropic work with the Carter Center. Through it all, he took solace from his Christian faith, his family, and -- perhaps surprisingly for a man trained as a nuclear engineer -- his painting and his poetry.

Carter recently spoke with Chapter 16 by phone:

When you were 10 years old, did you envision what your life was going to be like?

Carter: When I was 10 years old, if you'd asked me, "What do you hope to be when you grow up?" I would say, "I want to go to the Naval Academy and be an officer in the Navy." The reason for it was that nobody in my daddy's family had ever finished high school before, down through thirteen generations in this country. There were only two free universities about which we were familiar. One was West Point and the other was Annapolis. My daddy had been in the Army, but he didn't have any allegiance to the Army. My favorite uncle was still in the Navy, so I would say, just like a parrot, I'd want to go up to the Naval Academy. That was the only thing that I wanted to do. My teachers and parents knew it, so they kind of held that over my head as a challenge to do well in my studies and not let anything prevent my going to Annapolis.

Later in your political career many people tried to call you "that peanut farmer" as a way to denigrate you. Are you upset that more people don't know about your technological role in the Navy?

Carter: No. As a matter of fact, I used the peanut-farmer role when I ran for governor because I ran against a very rich lawyer, and one distinction that I drew between me and him was that I was a working man, that I'd grown up on a peanut farm and still lived there. In fact, I was a full-time farmer when I ran for public office. I had been full-time for 17 years, so I was very proud of that, and we still have the same farms we had back in those days t he oldest farm since 1833 in the family, and the newest farm since 1904. On the farm we still grow peanuts, cotton, pine trees, wheat, sorghum, and so forth like that.

But you want people to know that you were instrumental in bringing nuclear reactors onto naval ships....

Carter: Well, when I ran for Georgia senator -- I've looked at my old campaign notices, I've still got a few of those -- I point out that I'm a working farmer and also that I did graduate work in nuclear physics, and that I went to Georgia Tech, so I wanted people to know that I was at least well educated, as well as a hard- working man.

wIt seems you have lived such a well-balanced life. You've studied science, hard science, but you've also been involved in the arts -- in writing your poetry and painting -- in addition to politics. You're a very strong man of faith and a family man. Can you imagine a more well-rounded life out there?

Carter: I've had a full life, and I didn't say that as a way to brag on myself -- just to point out how fortunate I have been. I've had some setbacks and disappointments, obviously, in my life. But I was taught quite early in my life by my schoolteachers and by my parents, if I did have a mistake, failure, or disappointment, to try to get over it in a hurry and set an even higher ambition for the future, so that's been the kind of thing that I've tried to pursue. And it's worked most of the time for me. I pointed out in the book that there were a lot of times that I didn't get what I wanted, particularly when I was president, a lot of things that I wanted to resolve permanently, and either because the priorities of our nation changed or because of circumstances and so forth, I was not able to do the things I wanted to do. …

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