Jimmy Carter: Man of the People

Readers share their brief encounters with former president

Aside from being the oldest and longest living former president, it might be safe to say that Jimmy Carter is also the most accessible.

Carter, who celebrates his 98th birthday on Saturday, never met a camera he disliked. Or was offered a hand he didn’t shake.

From walking down the aisle of commercial airplanes and greeting everyone, to sitting patiently at the front of his Maranatha Baptist Church waiting to meet everyone who had come to hear him teach Sunday School, Carter’s big, toothy smile has graced many a scrapbook.

And now that everyone has a phone in their pocket, it makes it even easier.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent out a call to people who have met the former president to hear their stories.

Jonathan Fox of Fox Bros. barbecue tells the story of how after hosting a dinner for the Carter family in his restaurant, the former president and Rosalyn Carter made themselves available to any staffer who wanted a photo, hug or handshake.

“They were very humble and gracious for opening our dining room up to just them and how much he loved our Burnt Ends. Who knew?” Fox said. “And as they were leaving, Jimmy demanded we take a photo together and to this day it is one of the only photos of us and a celebrity guest hanging on our walls.”

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Here are some other stories, which have been edited for space and clarity when necessary.

Eddrica Buckner: 10 is enough

Credit: Eddrica Buckner

Credit: Eddrica Buckner

This picture was taken on March 18, 2018! My family and I wanted to attend one of President Carter’s Sunday School lessons. We were visiting from Barnesville and we had the BEST time ever! We went to Plains on Saturday and stayed overnight. Saturday was a blast, as we visited President Carter’s high school and watched a video of his life. We also visited his childhood home and got to see his bedroom. We enjoyed our trip to the train depot where he shared many speeches. We thought it was so awesome to see the police cars that had a message that read, “Home of the 39th President.” We also took pictures next to the road signs that read the same! We were so excited to be in President Carter’s hometown and seeing him and taking a picture with him made our trip that much more special. There were 10 of us. Three generations—my mom, her children and her grandbabies—ranging from four years old to 58.

President Carter made us all feel so special. He was nice and friendly. He adores children which is why my nephew Khelton is right next to him, which is where President Carter wanted him so that he could hug him. This was the trip of a lifetime and we will never forget it! Ever!

Holly Ozsan: ‘Hi Wesley, I’m Jimmy’

Credit: Holly Ozsan

Credit: Holly Ozsan

My nephew was already reading President Carter’s then-new book (for real) when I learned he’d be doing a book signing. My nephew very much wanted to meet him, so I took him!

What always stands out to me is how, after President Carter asked my nephew his name, he then said, ”Hi Wesley, I’m Jimmy.”

No pretension, no arrogance.

A memory my nephew will always cherish, along with his signed book.

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Angie Moon: Carter meets Carter

Credit: Angie Moon

Credit: Angie Moon

I had the great honor to participate in seven Jimmy Carter Work projects with Habitat for Humanity between 2000-2010. I have greatly admired Jimmy Carter for several years. Every time I read his books or heard him speak, that admiration grew. In 2009 I had my first child and I named my daughter Carter Kathleen Moon, in his honor. At the 2010 build, I was granted the opportunity to meet him in person and tell him about his namesake. He told me she would fit right in with the rest of the grandkids. He is the greatest. I wish him a very happy birthday.

Maggie Tidwell: Progressive debate

Credit: Maggie Tidwell

Credit: Maggie Tidwell

I was a junior in high school (1966) and President Carter was a Georgia legislator. He came to speak to the St. Pius X debate team and I covered it for the yearbook.

Progressive politics had already taken hold of me by then, but meeting Jimmy Carter, and experiencing his kindness and humanity, made my commitment to social justice that much stronger.

I’m very grateful for this memory.

Alisa Porter: He is shorter than me

Credit: Alisa Porter

Credit: Alisa Porter

I was a student at Emory University 1990-1994. Every year Carter would hold a town hall for the freshman students (they still go on now but I think there are other speakers). During my senior year, I was asked to attend a private dinner before the event. I also was given the opportunity to give the non-denominational prayer. I will always remember that evening and being in his presence. While I took a picture with him he commented that he thought my prayer was wonderful and perfect for the occasion. A high compliment coming from a famous Sunday School teacher. I did note he is shorter than me.

Brenda Dutton: Straight buttermilk

Credit: Brenda Dutton

Credit: Brenda Dutton

I had the honor of serving as an intern at the Carter Center during the summer of 2017. During that time, the intern group took a trip down to Plains.

While we were having our lunch, we were told that the president would be stopping by to say hello. When he arrived, he decided he wanted to stay and eat with us. The closest available seat to where he entered was right next to me, so he sat down and started getting to know the group seated at my table. He is of course a fascinating public figure, but on an interpersonal, human level, he is also an absolute delight. He was warm, kind, and very funny.

Credit: Brenda Dutton

Credit: Brenda Dutton

The most surreal part of the experience happened when they served him his lunch. They placed a large glass, like a water glass from a banquet hall or conference center, in front of him and filled it up with - I kid you not - straight buttermilk. He told us that he and Rosalynn had a glass every day with their meal and it kept them healthy. We were all dumbfounded; no one at the table had ever drunk buttermilk straight before. Someone mentioned this to him, and he asked if we would like to try it. We weren’t sure what to say, so we all agreed, and we each took a sip of buttermilk from the glass of the former President of the United States of America. Talk about something you could only do pre-COVID!

John Martin: A visit for Harold and Pokey

Credit: John Martin

Credit: John Martin

I hope you can use this, but it’s not a photo of me. It’s a photo of my grandparents with Jimmy Carter. I’m told it was taken at the White House on Inauguration Day 1977. My grandfather, Harold Martin, was a columnist for the Atlanta Constitution in the 1940s through the 1960s, under Ralph McGill. He also wrote non-fiction about Georgia, the South and Atlanta and was a writer for the Saturday Evening Post. While governor, Jimmy Carter commissioned my grandfather to write a history of Georgia for the Bicentennial. My grandmother is there too, her name was Boyce “Pokey” Lokey Martin.

Ozong Agborsangaya-Fiteu: Everything I know

Credit: Ozong Agborsangaya-Fiteu

Credit: Ozong Agborsangaya-Fiteu

My name is Ozong Agborsangaya-Fiteu.

This picture was taken in 1995 in Burundi. I was working as a program coordinator at the Carter Center on human rights, democracy and conflict resolution at the time. I joined President and Mrs. Carter on a trip to Africa and joined their meetings. This one was with the President of Burundi at the time. President Carter was seeking to encourage dialogue and peace in the countries of the Great Lakes region of Africa, which were experiencing intense political conflict and violence during that period.

I moved on from the Carter Center in 2000 and since then have had a 20+ years career working on sustainable development and peace issues and now work for the African Development Bank. After my father, I think Jimmy Carter is one man who had the most compelling influence on me. Everything I know about how to find common ground, and how to build peace, I learned from Jimmy Carter.

Luke Moses: A kiss and the healing power of prayer

Credit: Luke Moses

Credit: Luke Moses

On May 16, 2021, my wife Catherine Comer and I traveled from Savannah to Plains to attend church at Maranatha Baptist Church. We knew that President Carter was no longer teaching Sunday school, but we enjoyed our previous visits so much that we decided to visit again.

The federal government had recently issued guidance stating that fully vaccinated individuals did not need to wear masks anymore. Maranatha Baptist Church followed suit and the May 16, 2021 service was their first unmasked one since the pandemic began.

The church was mostly empty on that particular day. A few minutes after we arrived, President Carter was wheeled into the sanctuary and seated adjacent to the front left pew.

Rather than sitting down, Mrs. Carter made her way to the back of the sanctuary and introduced herself to me and my wife. To my surprise, she asked, “Would you and your wife like to sit with me and Jimmy during the service?” Without hesitation, I replied, “Yes, ma’am!” and we made our way to the front pew.

A couple of minutes later, a guest chaplain from the Navy made her way into the room. The church’s pastor introduced the chaplain--who was the only person in the church wearing a mask--to President Carter.

President Carter asked the chaplain, “Have you had your shots?” and when she said, “Yes,” he replied, “Well, you can take that mask off if you want to.” The chaplain hesitantly proceeded to remove the mask. Sensing her apprehension, the former President motioned for the chaplain to lean down close to him and, when she did, gave her a big kiss on the cheek! The chaplain seemed at ease for the rest of the service.

Both President and Mrs. Carter were very kind to us throughout the service. When the preacher talked about the healing power of prayer during his sermon, Mrs. Carter leaned over to me and said, “I know it’s real, Luke. I’ve seen Jimmy’s sister, Ruth, heal people with prayer.”

Dan Marshall: Manny’s

Credit: Dan Marshall

Credit: Dan Marshall

I got to meet President Carter in the late 1990s when I was actively freelancing as a soundman for TV/video productions. This photo was from a shoot at the Carter Center for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau and President Carter was there to promote Atlanta. It’s unique because usually we never get any photos of our celebrity encounters because it goes against the code of the soundman, but the ACVB hired a photographer to get behind-the-scenes shots and I got my hands on one.

I was a little nervous because I heard President Carter was a “suffer no fools” type of interview subject and we only had 15 min with him. But I had a solid conversation opener at the ready and found him to be personable and friendly. In this photo, I’m talking with him as I mic him up (also a huge breach of on-set etiquette!) about the late great Manuel’s Tavern, the long-time bastion of democratic politics in Georgia. Many campaigns were planned in the back room at Manny’s.

I told him I had a photo of me up on the wall at Manny’s with my old karate dojo, and that I heard he used to hang out there.

“One of the best places on earth,” he responded.

My Grandmother never did display my college graduation picture or the picture of me breaking boards with my bare hands in karate class. But she did keep this one up on the mantle for many years.

Noel Mayeske: The cute baby back in the nursery

Credit: Noel Mayeske

Credit: Noel Mayeske

This photo was taken on October 3, 2004. That Sunday morning, my wife Kristin and our 9-month-old son Spencer (we’ve since had another son, Carson) traveled to Plains to be present for one of President Carter’s famous Sunday sermons at Maranatha Baptist Church.

The entire scene was so low-key and pleasant - considering the presence of the 39th U.S. President and his wife - that we were amazed. There was Secret Service personnel on hand and I believe a metal detector we went through, but all easy to navigate.

There was a baby nursery available and we were advised it was best to have ours be in there. So we took Spencer to the nursery, then sat down in the sanctuary to hear Mr. Carter’s sermon.

It was a wonderful sermon and as I recall, extemporaneous. I don’t remember seeing any notes.

Afterward, when this photo was taken, the couple met with all on hand who wanted a photo, including us, and the format was just as relaxed and natural as you see it here.

My two favorite were: President Carter holding Spencer’s tiny hand. And Mrs. Carter saying to us, “Oh, I noticed that cute baby back in the nursery!”

All in all, one of the best memories of my life.

Ernesta Blackmon Ingram: A change was taking place

Credit: Ernesta Blackmon Ingram

Credit: Ernesta Blackmon Ingram

I am pictured with Jimmy Carter, then Governor of Georgia, when he swore in my godfather, Harold A. Dawson Sr. as the first African American to serve on the Georgia Real Estate Commission. This picture was taken in Governor Carter’s office around 1972 or 1973. Being a child, I don’t remember much about the conversation that took place that day. I just remember a change in Georgia was taking place.

Debbie Baker: The hand that shook President Carter’s hand

Credit: Debbie Baker

Credit: Debbie Baker

I don’t have a picture of meeting President Carter, but I do have a story. When I was about 8 years old in 1975, my mother woke me up one night and told me I was going to go meet the future president of the United States. Mr. Carter, the then governor of Georgia, flew into the Atlanta Airport that night, and my mother wanted to meet him. This was back in the days when there was very little airport security, so anyone could go to the gates, and even onto the runway, pretty easily. My mother, her friend, my sister and I, still in my pajamas, met Mr. Carter on the airport runway right after he walked down the airplane steps. He looked me in the eyes, shook my hand, and said he was very pleased to meet me, and that he hoped he would get to be my next president.

While I didn’t understand any of the politics involved, I was impressed that a man I was told was very busy and important, took the time to make me, a child, feel valued and important. Throughout his challenging presidency, I remembered meeting him and how he treated me, and always felt like he was a genuinely good man.

Today, as a third-grade teacher, I read many books to my students. One of my favorites is “Pink and Say” by Patricia Polacco. Throughout the book, one of the main characters repeatedly says to shake his hand, “the hand that shook Abraham Lincoln’s hand.” After I read this book, I tell my students my story of meeting President Carter, and I tell them to shake my hand, “the hand that shook President Carter’s hand.”

Joan Scully: The air shifted

Credit: Joan Scully

Credit: Joan Scully

My husband Jacob, son Dan, and I have visited the Maranatha Baptist Church on three occasions to hear the President offer his Sunday School message. The first time we went to see him, the process was fairly simple. We stayed in nearby Americus and got up early to drive to the church in Plains. We were asked to wait to be searched by the Secret Service and were seated close to the front. On subsequent trips, there were larger crowds, and we left our hotel room very early, sleeping in the car by the church to be able to sit in the sanctuary. What moved me most about the experience was the way the air shifted when President Carter entered the church. Perhaps it was mutual anticipation and excitement, but I prefer to believe that a Higher Power accompanied him as he came to share the message. I am so grateful to have had the means and wherewithal to provide this experience for my son as there is no better example for my son of humility and genuineness than President Carter.

Larry High: Grateful

Credit: Larry High

Credit: Larry High

The picture was taken on October 14, 2001. The former president has just returned from a foreign trip and was met at the Jimmy Carter Regional Airport in Americus, Georgia to clear him through United States Customs and Border Protection.

I was a supervisory Customs and Border Protection Officer.

It was awesome to meet him and he was grateful to us for making the trip down from Atlanta to process him and his Secret Service detail.

Edie Gower: Natalie’s run

Credit: Edie Gower

Credit: Edie Gower

We had an amazing up close and personal hello with both Jimmy and Rosalynn on May 18, 1985. I could not resist sending in this photo of my daughter and the story behind it as I had voted for and always loved President and Mrs. Carter. However, after this incident, I knew he was one of the kindest and most humble people I had ever met. I was very fortunate to be the niece of the late Alex Cooley, a long time Georgia music promoter, who also was a fan and friend of President Carter. Alex had helped on Carter’s presidential campaign and in the years after brought a Willie Nelson concert to Plains for its Centennial Celebration. It was a big deal. Alex had our family sit on the stage and we were not far from the Carters and their entourage. We were told to be careful and not interfere with the crew, security and to keep away from the other side of the stage where the Carter family was. We were enjoying all that being backstage has, the incredible view and other perks and of course pointing out to the kids President Carter and his wife. My daughter, Natalie, was two months shy of three-years old and was an active and precocious child. Before I knew it, she had pulled away and darted through stage security and the Secret Service both to meet President Carter and Rosalynn personally! I was, at once, both mortified, scared and then happy when, as I was running after her, saw him smiling and hugging her. I was stopped immediately and escorted to them as the “frantic and apologetic” mother. Both he and Rosalynn were so gracious, chatted a bit and even asked if I wanted to take a picture! So, fast forward many years and I read something about how Jimmy Carter would sign pictures if you had one with him so I contacted the Carter Library and was told how to mail it to them. It took over a year I believe, but it did get returned with a beautiful signature. It was an experience I’ve never forgotten. Natalie only remembers it from hearing the story so I’m glad we have the picture and the autograph years later was such a gift.

Michael Bernstein: A meat and three invitation

Credit: Michael Bernstein

Credit: Michael Bernstein

Had the opportunity to meet President Carter when we were installing a Sirius Satellite Radio system in his Plains home on June 1, 2008. He was nothing but gracious and recommended a meat and three restaurant nearby to hit for lunch. We invited him to join us and I think he would have joined, but Secret Service didn’t approve.

Christopher Richardson: A meaningful moment

Credit: Christopher Richardson

Credit: Christopher Richardson

I met President Carter when I was student body President at Emory. Every year, President Carter gave a talk at Emory and answered any of our questions in a town hall. Prior to the town hall though, he would have dinner with the leaders of Emory. I was the SGA President and got the opportunity to sit next to him and discuss the upcoming 2004 presidential election, his views on Cuba, and his overall thoughts on his own election in 1980. As a young Black kid from Charleston, SC, it was a meaningful moment in my life!

Linda C Rehkopf: Two presidents

Credit: Linda C Rehkopf

Credit: Linda C Rehkopf

I met President Carter along with other guests and the late Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev at the Carter Center in the mid-1990s at a celebration of the work we all did for environmental education. I am standing far left. Many of the others were Georgia Conservancy board members, one from National Park Service. We had pulled together the First Global Forum of Georgia Conference on Human Survival for the Environment in 1992.

Meg Anderson-King: A bump

Credit: Meg Anderson-King

Credit: Meg Anderson-King

I once bumped into President Carter while he was dining out with Mrs. Carter. It might have been Fritti, or next door to Fritti with two names, circa 1997. He was delightful and his secret service agents gave me the stink eye. In fairness, they had no way of knowing I was a klutz!

Attached is a photo of my grandfather John S. Correll Sr. receiving a proclamation from the State of Georgia from then Governor Carter. My grandparents were involved in real estate at that time, having opened the Georgia Institute of Real Estate.

Luci Roberts: An interesting postscript

Credit: Luci Roberts

Credit: Luci Roberts

In February of 2004, the choir I sang in was invited to sing at President Carter’s home church in Plains. After the church service, everyone in attendance met the Carters on the church grounds in small individual groups. This is the picture of my family with President and Mrs. Carter, who graciously talked to all of us and especially the children.

The interesting postscript is that when my daughter took this picture to school, one of her fellow second graders, whose father was the same age as then-president George W. Bush, said: “It’s cool that you met the president, but your grandpa sure is old.”

Andrea Schroer: Breaking bread with the President

Credit: Andrea Schroer

Credit: Andrea Schroer

This picture was taken in President Carter’s mother’s home in Plains. I had just embarked on a mid-life career change and started my new environmental career with the Georgie State Energy Office and Jill Stuckey was my boss. She brought me to her home, which she had purchased from the Carters, and we had a semi-private dinner with President and Rosalynn Carter. A real low-country boil! I could not believe I was in the same room let alone breaking bread with the President. It was an incredibly motivating start to a new career, with support coming from the original environmentalist. The whole experience was humbling and one of my greatest highlights here in Georgia.

Brad Strickland: Amy loves her Cheetos

Credit: Brad Strickland

Credit: Brad Strickland

In 1995, in the late lamented Oxford Bookstore, I was starting toward the check-out line when I noticed Jimmy Carter, in a dark suit and tie, standing as though waiting for something.

“Hello, Mr. President!” I said.

He gave me a half-smile. “Hi, how’re you doing?” he asked.

I apologized for disturbing him. “You don’t know me at all, but when Amy went to Governor’s Honors, I was teaching there.”

Mr. Carter’s eyes lit up. “That’s a wonderful program,” he said. “Amy still keeps in touch with the friends she made there. Were you her teacher?”

No, I was in Communicative Arts, she was in mathematics. But we all knew her, and one occasion stood clear in memory. “Remember the day when you and Rosalynn showed up with two big grocery bags of snacks for her? She went around showing them off and saying, ‘I’ve got the best parents in the world, and this is the greatest day of my life!’”

Mr. Carter chuckled and said, “That girl loves her Cheetos.”

At that point, a store employee told him they were ready with the table where he would sign copies of his book “Always a Reckoning.”

“I have to go now,” he said. “It’s been good talking to you.”

Driving back home with a big smile on my face, I couldn’t wait to tell my wife Barbara about whom I’d met. And then it hit me.

In the excitement, I had failed to buy a copy of President Carter’s book.

Diane Hudgins: You have a beautiful smile

In 1971, I graduated from what was then North Georgia College. Governor Carter was the commencement speaker and stood on stage as each graduate crossed to receive his or her diploma. He congratulated and shook hands with each of us. Giving me his famously engaging smile, he took my hand and said,” You have a beautiful smile.”

Richard Pettys Jr.: “Rickey, where’s your daddy?

My father was Dick Pettys. He was a newsman with AP who covered the Georgia capitol for nearly 40 years, including Jimmy Carter’s term as governor, and I had to sit in on many of his Wednesday afternoon press conferences. He was the AP specialist on Jimmy Carter and followed him on the 1976 campaign trail.

President Carter was flying into Robbins AFB in Warner Robbins. Dad was covering President Carter coming home. My middle brother, Beaux, and I accompanied Dad to cover the event. We both wore scouting t-shirts. We were along the rope line.

President Carter deplaned and made a B-line for me and asked me, “Rickey, where’s your daddy? I need to talk to him.” I felt so important because the President of the United States knew me. I thought I was the most important kid in the whole world!

Bob Kowalczyk: Spanish on the campaign trail

Credit: Bob Kowalczyk

Credit: Bob Kowalczyk

I’m a Cleveland, Ohio native currently in Tampa after 17 years in metro Atlanta. My encounter with President Carter came in 1976 when his campaign brought him to Lorain, Ohio, west of Cleveland, where I worked at the local radio station and was a stringer for AP. Carter visited south Lorain, the enclave of that city’s Hispanic population, where he spoke to the crowd at Sacred Heart Chapel, totally in Spanish, then generously gave this radio reporter an interview in English. Alas, getting photos was not as easy as it is now. As fate would have it, another Carter encounter came during the President’s term. Billy Carter made a promotional stop at a Lorain County auto dealership hawking “Billy Beer.” That was a fun interview also!