Jimmy Carter, already the longest-living U.S. president in history, will celebrate his 98th birthday Saturday with family and friends in Plains, the tiny Georgia town where he and his wife, 95-year-old Rosalynn, were born in the years between World War I and the Great Depression.
The 39th president’s latest milestone comes as The Carter Center, which the Carters established together after their one White House term, marks 40 years of promoting democracy and conflict resolution, monitoring elections, and advancing public health in the developing world.
Jason Carter, the former president’s grandson now leading the Carter Center board, described his grandfather, an outspoken Christian, as content with his life and legacy.
“He is looking at his 98th birthday with faith in God’s plan for him,” the younger Carter, 47, said, “and that’s just a beautiful blessing for all of us to know, personally, that he is at peace and happy with where he has been and where he’s going.”
Carter Center leaders said the former president, who survived a cancer diagnosis in 2015 and a serious fall at home in 2019, already has enjoyed reading congratulatory messages sent by well-wishers around the world via social media and the center’s website. But Jason Carter said his grandfather is mostly looking forward to a simple day that includes watching his favorite Major League Baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, on television.
“He’s still 100% with it, even though daily life things are a lot harder now,” Jason Carter said. “But one thing I guarantee. He will watch all the Braves games this weekend.”
James Earl Carter Jr. won the 1976 presidential election after beginning the campaign as a little-known one-term Georgia governor. His surprise performance in the Iowa caucuses established the small, Midwestern state as an epicenter of presidential politics. Carter went on to defeat President Gerald Ford in the general election, largely on the strength of sweeping the South before his native region shifted heavily to Republicans.
A Naval Academy alumnus, Navy officer and peanut farmer, Carter won in no small part because of his promise never to lie to an electorate weary over the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal that resulted in Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency in 1974. Four years later, unable to tame inflation and salve voter anger over American hostages held in Iran, Carter lost 44 states to Ronald Reagan. He returned home to Georgia in 1981 at the age of 56.
The former first couple almost immediately began planning The Carter Center. It opened in Atlanta in 1982 as a first-of-its-kind effort for a former president. The stated mission: to advance peace, human rights and public health causes around the world. Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. He traveled internationally into his 80s and 90s, and he did not retire officially from the board until 2020.
Since opening, the center has monitored elections in 113 countries, said CEO Paige Alexander, and Carter has acted individually as a mediator in many countries, as well. Carter Center efforts have nearly eradicated the guinea worm, a parasite spread through unclean drinking water and painful to humans. Rosalynn Carter has steered programs designed to reduce stigma attached to mental health conditions.