An Outlandishly Good Life

“Former President Jimmy Carter remains in hospice care at his home in Plains, Georgia…Representatives from the [Carter] Center say the 98-year-old has decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and his wife, Rosalyn.” ~ the Carter Center

When I read this headline it got me thinking fondly about Jimmy Carter and his outlandishly good life.


It seems so outlandish, so improbable, so unfathomable that a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia could ever be elected president of the United States — but it happened.

But should we have been surprised?

With all that the country had endured in the preceding 10 years it was no wonder that people were ready to elect an honest President, even if he’d been a peanut farmer.

And so it was that into the strange mix, in these outlandish times, the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA), where I worked during those years, made common cause with the Carter Administration.

I remember with great fondness the committed “New Frontier” warriors, born out of President Kennedy’s “Ask not…” generation, with whom I shared a foxhole. They were also found in every imaginable role throughout Washington, DC.

It was a time when outlandish hope was in vogue.

I had found my way to Chicago in 1971 after graduating from college, and just as the Institute was ready to launch scores of innovative community development projects in impoverished communities around the world.

They all had one thing in common: they needed money — and lots of it.

My team was assigned to find that money. As luck would have it my friend and colleague, Joe Thomas, had a close friend who was also a close friend of Jimmy Carter. 

So it was through Joe’s contact we gained access to the Carter administration and its sympathetic ear.

An outlandish coincidence of history.

It was for me an invigorating and heady experience.

I remember attending one meeting in the White House, actually in the Situation Room, where we set out our outlandish plan in the presence of a number of high ranking officials. It all seemed so timely — history appeared ready to be made.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

It was at the tail of Carter’s term and just before a series of events that would undermine his presidency.

  • oil embargo
  • rising interest rates
  • tanking economy 
  • hostage crisis

They came in rapid succession and sucked the oxygen out of his agenda; programs like ours were moved to the back burner.

Well, you all know how the story ends. Carter lost the election to Reagan and the country was set on different trajectory.

Sad ending? ~ Well, NO! 

This is one story with an outlandish epilogue.

Right after the election Joe Thomas came up with an outlandish idea for Carter’s post-presidency.

Joe thought, why create a staid presidential library? Why not develop a conference center for conflict resolution, building off Carter’s wildly successful Camp David Accords, a process that brought peace between Egypt and Israel.

Joe put this, and a raft of other ideas, into a letter to the former president. He soon got word that Carter wanted to meet with him in Plains, and shortly thereafter the Carter Center was born.

In Kai Bird’s book, The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter, it is written about this way:

Mr. Carter’s re-election loss plunged him temporarily into depression. But then one night, in January 1982, Mrs. Carter was startled to see him sitting up in bed, wide awake. She asked him if he was feeling ill. “I know what we can do,” he replied. “We can develop a place to help people who want to resolve disputes.” This was the beginning of the Carter Center, an institution devoted to conflict resolution, public health initiatives and election monitoring around the world.

No ex-presidency has ever been

  • more productive
  • more enlightened
  • more humanitarian

as that of Jimmy Carter orienting his library as a conference center, as Joe had suggested.

For the past 42 years the world has been immeasurably enriched. 

His presidency may not have been viewed as a success, but his retirement was. And to think it all began with Joe’s outlandish idea.

“I have one life and one chance to make it count for something… My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can, with whatever I have, to try to make a difference.”  Jimmy Carter

Thank you, President Carter, for your outlandishly good life.

That we all might choose the same, as best we can.

Just a thought…


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