What struck me about him when I was 12 was how steadfastly Jimmy Carter stuck to his convictions. I admired him for looking to his value system as his north star to guide him. I watched him on the nightly news and was moved by his gentle demeanor, not a mean thread peppered his exchanges.
If America were the sort of place where a monarchy could thrive, Jimmy Carter would grace the regal throne. Though he is a simple man who would eschew the trappings of royalty, his loyal subjects would bow to his grace. He has enriched our country and our world in myriad ways. Carter is guided by his keen sense of justice and faith, while most politicians are fueled by hubris.
Jimmy Carter lives at the intersection of faith and service, showing us that advocating for the vulnerable among us is our duty as human beings. He has publicly left his church for its stance on women and most recently come out supporting gay marriage. He has made this world a more peaceful place and never let fame or pride or blind faith cloud his resolve. I could wax on about what makes this man great. Having met him three times, I can tell you that his honors and awards are the least of what make him grand.
In fact, both my husband and I have long admired Jimmy Carter. The early days of our courtship in the late nineties revolved around long discussions about something or other we had read in one of Carter’s books. I confessed to writing to President Carter when he boycotted the 1980 Olympics. I was 12 years old and professed my sadness for the athletes while affirming I supported his decision as our President. One night while on vacation in Key West, my husband-to-be and I jokingly proclaimed that if we ever got married and had children we would name our firstborn after Jimmy Carter.
Fast forward to 2015. Yes, we did indeed name our firstborn Carter. We did not know the gender of our baby ahead of time, but Carter was going to be the baby’s name, boy or girl. Our son Carter is now the same age I was when I wrote to President Jimmy Carter all those years ago.
What struck me as a child (because back then age 12 was a child, for the modern vernacular “tween” did not exist), was how steadfastly Carter stuck to his convictions. I admired him for looking to his value system as his north star to guide him. I watched him on the nightly news and was moved by his gentle demeanor, not a mean thread peppered his exchanges. My interest in advocacy and politics was sparked in those years. I must admit, I also felt a certain kinship to Amy Carter. I was enthralled by the notion of a child scampering along the hallways of the White House.
“Jimmy Carter aspired to make Government ‘competent and compassionate,’ responsive to the American people and their expectations. ” — whitehouse.gov
When I met my husband, he had been a voracious reader of Carter’s books. I marveled at meeting someone who shared my respect and admiration for Jimmy Carter. My husband and I were both idealists who shirked dirty politics (which is redundant, of course), in favor of leading with the marriage of head and heart. In all of Carter’s words we had heard and read, we felt compelled to take a dose of his constitution to guide our own lives. We wanted to choose a name for our firstborn that had meaning, significance. We wanted our child to have a story. We were bestowing more than a moniker upon our son when we named him Carter.
In a stroke of fate, we have met Jimmy Carter three times at book signings and one particularly special time when we traveled to Plains, Georgia to see Carter teach Sunday school. Our Christmas card that year was a family photo with Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter. It’s pretty tough to beat that (but try us, Barack and Michelle!). Each time we stood in line to greet President Carter we had been a tish overloaded with fandom paraphernalia. We had adorned Baby Carter’s infant carrier with vintage campaign buttons or we came bearing stacks of books to sign (We have every one.). He was gracious and humble and ever so kind.
Upon our last meeting we had a few minutes to chat. By this time the crowd had dissipated so our spot at the end of the line turned out to be auspicious. We told President Carter and his wife that we had named our oldest son after him. Mrs. Carter beamed and gently laid her hand on both my sons’ shoulders. President Carter bent down to peer into my son’s eyes, placed his hands squarely on his shoulders, and said, “Do good by my name, son. Do good by my name.”
Ilina Ewen writes at Dirt & Noise and is a seasoned marketer with over 20 years of marketing, brand strategy, communications, and writing experience. Along with serving Shot@Life, Ilina works with her local food bank, serves on the boards of SAFEchild to help eliminate child abuse and the Cecilia Rawlins Fund, which helps provide meals and support to children and families in crisis at her son’s school. Ilina also advocates for public education and serves on the North Carolina State Superintendent Parent Advisory Council and the Statewide Summative Assessment Task Force. She’s a doting mom to sons Carter and Neal, an Audrey Hepburn fan, devourer of all things food related, and a shoe aficionada. In her free time she indulges in YA novels and Netflix binges.
Image of Ilina Ewen and family with the Carters, with permission