Georgia’s favorite son Jimmy Carter turns 99

The nation’s 39th president has long surpassed previous records for America’s longest living former chief executive.
Published: Oct. 1, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - More than seven months after announcing he was entering hospice care, former President Jimmy Carter turned 99 on Sunday.

The nation’s 39th president and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter made a surprise appearance last weekend at the annual Plains Peanut Festival. The Carters have visited the Plains Peanut Festival before, which celebrates the presidential couple and the region’s cash crop.

Back on Feb. 18, 2023, the Carter Center - which the former president founded in Atlanta after his one term in the White House - announced Carter had “decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention.”

“He has the full support of his family and his medical team,” the announcement said.

In May, the Carter Center announced Rosalynn Carter had been diagnosed with dementia.

Since then, the nation’s longest-married presidential couple has been the subject of constant media and social speculation.

In August, one of the Carters’ grandsons, Hugo Wentzel, told Entertainment Weekly his grandfather is “pretty sick.”

“He still does use his brain,” Wentzel said. “He listens to audiobooks. He’s a genius. He’s super smart. I love him. He always wants to be doing something with his mind, so he’s trying to keep himself busy, but he is really sick and getting older.”

Last month, another grandson, Jason Carter, said the couple is “coming to the end,” as both of his famous relatives continue battling health challenges at their home in Plains, Georgia.

Jason Carter, himself a former Georgia state senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said in USA Today interview his grandparents “are together. They are at home. They’re in love, and I don’t think anyone gets more than that. I mean, it’s a perfect situation for this time in their lives.”

Also last month, the Carters received the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Lifetime Achievement Award. The award honors their multiple humanitarian achievements, including their work to nearly eradicate guinea worm disease and their commitment to peace and democracy, the foundation said on social media.

Carter officially became America’s oldest living ex-president on March 21, 2019, surpassing George H.W. Bush, who died in November 2018 at the age of 94 years and 171 days old. Prior to Bush, previous record holders were Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Herbert Hoover and John Adams.

Carter was born October 1, 1924, in Plains, Ga., a small farming town located about 150 miles south of downtown Atlanta. He grew up in the nearby community of Archery.

Carter attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology before heading to the U.S. Naval Academy, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1946. While serving in the Navy, he became a submariner and rose to the rank of lieutenant.

On July 7, 1946, Carter married Rosalynn Smith. Seven years later, he resigned from the Navy and returned to Georgia. Carter was an active member of the community and eventually entered the political world in 1962, when he was elected to the Georgia Senate.

Four years later, he would run for governor, but lost in a primary to the eventual winner, Lester Maddox. Carter would try again four years later, and this time, would cruise to an easy victory over Republican Hal Suit. He was sworn in as Georgia’s 76th governor on January 12, 1971.

Exactly three years to the date of his inauguration into the governor’s mansion, Carter announced his candidacy for president of the United States. He would go onto win the Democratic nomination in 1976 and was elected on November 2, narrowly defeating incumbent Republican Gerald Ford.

The first - and still only - president from Georgia capped off the day by walking in the inauguration parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, something never seen from a just-inaugurated president.

Carter’s rise to the White House ranks as one of the most unlikely political victories in U.S. history. He was virtually unknown to the country, and campaigned on a promise to never tell a lie.

Carter was inaugurated on January 20, 1977, but would only serve on term in office. He was defeated soundly in the 1980 election by Republican Ronald Reagan.

While some presidents ride off into the sunset after serving in office, Carter was just getting started. In 1982, Carter became University Distinguished Professor at Emory University in Atlanta and founded the Carter Center.

The Carters later become the public face of Habitat for Humanity. They both volunteered for the organization for 35 years, helping build homes alongside thousands of volunteers throughout the years.

In 2002, Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

Carter taught Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains for nearly four decades. Thousands of people from all over the world would line up outside the small church to hear his ministry over the years. Some say Carter knew the Bible better than any president since Abraham Lincoln.

Carter was diagnosed with cancer in August 2015 at age 91 after having surgery to remove a lesion on his liver. After having the surgery, Carter announced the cancer had spread to other parts of his body. Later that year, the Carter Center said he had been cleared of the disease.

The Carters have three sons, one daughter, nice grandsons, three granddaughters, five great-grandsons, and eight great-granddaughters.

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