Lillian Carter’s stint in the Peace Corps began in 1966, when she volunteered for the organization at the unlikely age of 68. In fact, Peace Corps officials required her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before they trained her. She took her nursing skills and served in India for almost two years, working with lepers and teaching villagers about birth control.
After returning from India, she wrote this to her children:
“I didn’t dream that in this remote corner of the world, so far away from the people and material things that I had always considered so necessary, I would discover what life is really all about, sharing yourself with others — and accepting their love for you is the most precious gift of all.
“If I had one wish for my children, it would be that each of you would dare to do the things and reach for goals in your own lives that have meaning for you as individuals, doing as much as you can for everybody, but not worrying if you don’t please everyone.”
During her son’s political career and presidency, Lillian Carter was known for her down-home candor and gave hundreds of speeches on the campaign trail.
Carter received the Covenant of Peace award in 1977 from the Synagogue Council of America and was named honorary chair of the Peace Corps National Advisory Council in 1980.
With her three surviving children by her side, Carter died of pancreatic cancer in 1983 in Americus.
In 2001, Emory University opened the Lillian Carter Center for International Nursing in her honor. Its mission is “the improvement of the health of vulnerable people worldwide through nursing education, research, practice, and policy.”
Every other year, the Peace Corps’ Lillian Carter Award recognizes an outstanding volunteer who served after the age of 50. The award goes to someone who demonstrates a commitment to the Peace Corps’ third goal: helping Americans understand the people and cultures of other countries.
President Carter's mother, "Miss Lillian" just wanted to serve