On his 99th birthday, former President Jimmy Carter deviated from his usual routine

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A White House electrician arranges 39 candles on a wooden birthday cake ahead of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s 99th birthday on October 1, 2023 at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 30, 2023. REUTERS/Julia Nikhinson

Opting to celebrate in the company of his family rather than quietly watching online church services, as he typically does. Joined by his wife, Rosalynn, as well as their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, the Carters gathered in the same humble one-story dwelling they lived in before Jimmy Carter’s first election to the Georgia Senate in 1962. As warm tributes flowed in from around the world, this intimate gathering provided an opportunity for the family to pay homage to Jimmy Carter’s enduring legacy.

Jason Carter, Jimmy Carter’s grandson and chairman of The Carter Center’s board, reflected on the significance of his grandparents’ enduring South Georgia roots, despite their global prominence. He noted that his grandparents have remained true to their South Georgia upbringing, even as they accomplished remarkable feats on the world stage. He emphasized that they have made it easy for their family to lead as normal a life as possible.

Meanwhile, at The Carter Center in Atlanta, a special naturalization ceremony unfolded to mark Jimmy Carter’s 99th birthday. Ninety-nine new American citizens, hailing from 45 different countries, took the oath of allegiance in a ceremony that was thoughtfully timed to coincide with the former president’s birthday. Tania Martinez, a 53-year-old nurse originally from Cuba and later residing in Ghana, expressed her joy, saying, “Now, I will be free forever.”

Celebrating a 99th birthday in this manner was once unimaginable. In February, the Carters had announced that Jimmy Carter was forgoing further medical treatments and entering home hospice care following a series of hospitalizations. Yet, Jimmy Carter, who had already defied the odds by overcoming cancer at age 90 and relearning to walk after a hip replacement at age 94, continued to defy expectations.

Donna Brazile, a former Democratic national chairperson and presidential campaign manager, aptly described Jimmy Carter as a “towering, old Southern oak” and praised his strength and character.

People write and draw birthday messages on a window at a public birthday party held a day before former U.S. President Jimmy Carter turns 99 years old, at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. September 30, 2023. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

Despite Jimmy Carter’s health challenges, he has been able to experience months of accolades and tributes that are typically reserved for former presidents after they pass away. These tributes acknowledge not only his time in office but also his four decades of global humanitarian work, undertaken with vigor after leaving the White House. Notable figures like Katie Couric and Bill Clinton have paid homage to Carter’s relentless efforts to make the world a better place.

Katie Couric highlighted Carter’s work in eradicating diseases like Guinea worm disease and river blindness, as well as his advocacy for peace, democracy, and affordable housing through organizations like Habitat for Humanity. She playfully acknowledged his various roles, including being the governor of Georgia and the president of the United States, with a touch of humor.

Peter Gabriel and the Indigo Girls led concert audiences in singing “Happy Birthday” to Jimmy Carter, underscoring his widespread impact and appeal.

In Atlanta, the Carter Library & Museum and the Carter Center hosted a series of events to commemorate Jimmy Carter’s birthday, including the naturalization ceremony. The museum even offered special 99-cent admission in honor of the occasion. The celebrations continued thanks to an agreement reached by Congress to avoid a government shutdown at the start of the federal fiscal year, which aligned with Carter’s birthday.

Jason Carter acknowledged his grandfather’s satisfaction in witnessing reassessments of his presidency. While Jimmy Carter’s presidency faced challenges, including inflation and the Iran hostage crisis, historians have increasingly recognized his diplomatic efforts, environmental focus, and responsible governance. His longevity provides a unique perspective on how the world has changed during his lifetime while also highlighting enduring political and societal issues.

Jimmy Carter’s work with The Carter Center on disease eradication and global democracy advocacy has evolved over the years, reflecting changing global dynamics and his own evolving perspective on the state of democracy in the United States.

Notably, Jimmy Carter has outlived most of his contemporaries and has lived to see a genuine friend in the Oval Office again, as President Joe Biden was an early supporter of Carter’s campaign in 1976. Carter’s birthday was celebrated with a wooden cake display at the White House.

Jimmy Carter’s life has spanned significant historical moments, from the passage of immigration restrictions in Congress to the ongoing debate over immigration policy. He was born into an era of Jim Crow segregation and witnessed the civil rights movement’s progress. Today, as he observes church services online, he sees Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. However, he also witnesses challenges to voting rights in his native region, highlighting the ongoing struggle for equal representation.

Jason Carter emphasized that Jimmy Carter’s impact goes beyond solving every problem or winning every election. Instead, it is rooted in a profound respect for individuals and a commitment to helping them. Jimmy Carter’s long, rich life, marked by a lasting marriage and a global perspective, is a testament to the extraordinary impact one person can have on the world.

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