In this Age of Trump, with so much dishonor and corruption throughout the presidential administration, I am thankful for the public leaders of the past who stood for nothing but pure honor, decency, and patriotism. As we cling increasingly to Mister Rogers as a moral model, we are drawn more and more to Jimmy Carter as the epitome of presidential integrity. What brings this to mind this morning is a brilliant opinion piece on the Carters in CNN. Find it here .
In 1999-2000, I served a stint as a librarian in the Georgia Southwestern State University library, in Americus, Georgia. Plains is just a dozens miles to the west. One early Sunday morning, on a whim, my wife and I decided to go to Carter's Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church, in Plains. When we showed up hardly anyone was there. Shortly thereafter, the Carters arrived in a big black Secret Service SUV (they do not own a car). The local papers had announced Carter would not be present this day. So, the couple of dozen of us there got a personalized Sunday School lesson and all of us posed for pictures afterwards. You just have not been to Sunday School if you have not heard Jimmy Carter teach. To say he knows his Bible is an understatement. A few months later we went another time but, alas, there were hundreds of people who packed the place spilling out everywhere. Not so personal.
The library for Georgia Southwestern is named for Jimmy's father "Mr. Earl." At that time, the library had a large and prominent display about Jimmy's legendary mother, "Miss Lillian." It was full of wonderful memorabilia from that most remarkable woman. So, I took it upon myself to ring up Jimmy and invite him to see the display. Of course, I did not get him. I got his social secretary. I gave her all the details. Sure enough, the next day she called back and said President and Mrs. Carter would be visiting the library on this day at this time and could spend this amount of time there. I was ecstatic. Shortly after that, the Secret Service called and gave us the run-down on security (all doors but one locked, all elevators turned off, etc.) Exactly as planned, Jimmy and Rosalynn arrived surrounded by a gaggle of Secret Service with their earpieces in place.
In spite of all the security restrictions, the Carters could not have been more warm, down to earth, chatty, and appreciative. We took them right to the display about Miss Lillian and his eyes lit up (I think they misted a bit). He stood there a long time regaling us with stories about his beloved mother. She was what we southerners call "a character." She had a full Brooklyn Dodgers baseball uniform and had been an avid fan simply because they were the pioneers of the integration of professional baseball. As a professional nurse, her whole life was devoted to serving others, and Jimmy incorporated this to his core. He was, and is, his mother's son. She even served in India in the Peace Corps. We also walked around the library and Jimmy talked with us about the books he was writing and others he was planning. At the moment he was working on his novel about the Revolutionary War. Talking with him was as if I were catching up with my next door neighbor. He was a man of simple decency and unpretentious brilliance. Being with him was one of the highlights of my life. One knows when one is in the presence of greatness, and I knew it. Yet, his greatness lay in just being himself.
And so, at this critical time in American history when so many of our leaders are failing us morally and ethically, are dividing us for their own personal gain, and are betraying the democratic republican institutions by undermining the Constitution, it is well to remember the great statesmen of the past who stood for morality and ethics, for toleration and inclusiveness, and who respected the Constitution and the democratic values it enshrines. As with Mr. Rogers, we cling ever more to moral giants like Jimmy Carter. We do not want to let them go, and for good reason. They are our beacons of hope for a better country and world. They bring out the better angels of our nature.