Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife have been cleared to return to their church in Plains after being fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Maranatha Baptist Church announced on its Facebook page Wednesday that Carter, 96, and Rosalynn Carter, 93, were again attending worship in person. The couple has been in the sanctuary the last two Sundays, Pastor Tony Lowden said in a video.
Jimmy Carter hasn’t resumed teaching his Sunday school class, which once drew thousands of visitors annually. But video from last Sunday’s service showed both of the Carters sitting in their customary spots on the front pew and wearing face masks. The former president waved as members applauded their presence.
“They’ve both had their shots,” Lowden said from the pulpit. In a reminder to keep a safe distance from the couple, Lowden said if someone gets tackled by him, another man or Secret Service agents, “it’s because we’re still practicing social distancing.”
With the Carters once again in church, Maranatha Baptist posted rules that also include mandatory face masks and temperature checks, limited building capacity, reservations and no photographs. Before the pandemic, visitors usually gathered around the couple for pictures at the end of worship.
The Carters celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary in July and are the longest-married presidential couple in U.S. history.
On March 21, 2019, Carter officially became the oldest living ex-president, surpassing George H.W. Bush, who died in November 2018. Prior to Bush, previous record holders were Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Herbert Hoover and John Adams.
Carter was elected president in 1976 at age 52. He has been out of office for more than 40 years, losing a reelection bid to Reagan in 1980. He has since become one of the most active ex-presidents in U.S. history, founding The Carter Center and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, and continuing to participate in frequent Habitat for Humanity homebuilding efforts.
Carter was born in Plains, a tiny town in southwest Georgia. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946 and married Rosalynn Smith.
After his service with the Navy, Carter returned to Plains in 1962 where he and Rosalynn operated a seed and farm supply company, according to The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. In 1962, the Democratic candidate entered politics and was elected to the Georgia State Senate. In 1966, he lost his first bid for the governorship but won in a second shot at the seat in 1970.
In 1976, his long-shot presidential bid won him the White House when Carter defeated incumbent Ford to become the 39th president of the United States.
Carter’s presidency is known for various historic milestones, such as the Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978 and establishing diplomatic relations with China, his library noted. He also was responsible for the creation of the departments of Education and Energy, as well as implementing new environmental protection legislation such as the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the library said.
He famously failed to win reelection in 1980 during a sluggish economy and the Iranian hostage crisis. After more than a year in captivity, the hostages were released the same day Reagan was sworn into office — Jan. 20, 1981.
Carter managed to repair his image over the last several decades through his work helping the less fortunate. In 1982, he founded The Carter Center, which works to address national and international issues through public policy. The nonprofit organization has dispatched 100 election observers to countries in the Americas, Africa and Asia.
To younger generations, Carter is probably best known for his work with Habitat For Humanity, a nonprofit that works to provide housing to less fortunate citizens. The author of several books, Carter also continued in his mission to engage in international diplomacy and advancing human rights around the world. He also worked to promote democracy, prevent diseases and ensure secure and fair elections in developing countries.
Carter was diagnosed with cancer in August 2015 at age 91 after having surgery to remove a lesion on his liver. After the surgery, Carter announced the cancer had spread to other parts of his body. Doctors had found melanoma lesions on his brain. He announced that he would significantly cut back on his schedule while undergoing treatment.
In November of that year, The Carter Center issued an update on the former president’s health, saying he had received good news from his doctors. Recent tests had shown there was no new evidence of malignancy and he was responding well to treatment. In March 2016, he announced to his Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church that he was cleared of the disease.