I’ve had the opportunity to cover and interview a number of presidential candidates, some of whom became president. It comes with the reportorial territory. But only one did I actually work with, even if sort of tangentially. That was Jimmy Carter, who’s back in the news because he is now–at 94 and change–our longest-living president. He recently passed the late George H.W. Bush.
His post-presidency accomplishments are well documented–including the founding of the Carter Center that has focused on global human rights issues and efforts to eradicate parasitic infections in Africa. His involvement with Habitat for Humanity, where I was a volunteer while living in Georgia, is the one that I relate to.
Carter was a serious carpenter and craftsman. While politicians were always anxious for a HfH photo-op–because sweat equity appealed across the political divide–he was always about the work. He could frame; he could roof; he could trim. He didn’t do small talk when there was a big task at hand. I can still recall trying to talk him down from a roof in Houston where he was nailing shingles in mid-day, late-summer humidity. It was about staying hydrated, not chatting with local media.
I can also recall him standing in a lunch line at a Houston junior high cafeteria, refusing any presidential protocol to be served first. He never acted entitled, just polite.
Carter was important, but not self-important–presidential traits we miss more and more each day.