Jimmy Carter reflects on his life with his wife and Jesus by his side.
Former President Jimmy Carter has spent 36 years with his wife, Rosalyn Carter, leading an annual build for Habitat, erecting and fixing up more than 4,000 homes. However, 95-year-old Jimmy Carter told People that he never expected to live this long. Carter is the oldest of four children born to Lillian Gordy Carter and James Earl Carter Sr., the 39th president, and he is the oldest living one in American history. He has survived both of his parents and each of his siblings by decades. In 2015, he was diagnosed with cancer, which had killed the rest of his family. So, he prepared for an end that is yet to come.
"I just thought I had a few weeks left, but I was surprisingly at ease," Carter said at the time. "I’ve had a full life, I have thousands of friends … so I was surprisingly at ease, much more so than my wife was.” Miraculously, within months, the cancer was gone following successful surgery and innovative immunotherapeutic treatments. "It’s hard to live until you’re 95 years old." But he's got his reasons as to why he thinks he's made it this far in life.
"I think the best explanation for that is to marry the best spouse: someone who will take care of you and engage and do things to challenge you and keep you alive and interested in life." In November, the Carters were back to their annual Habitat build. This year alone they have helped build 21 homes in the Nashville area, expanding a neighborhood Habitat first started about 10 years ago. “One of the things Jesus taught was: If you have any talents, try to utilize them for the benefit of others," says Jimmy Carter, who is now 95.
"That’s what Rose and I have both tried to do." He and Mrs. Carter, married since 1946, and “have had a good life together." The two of them have decades of memories to bond over, which also include some of their shared hobbies like bird-watching. Together they have seen around 1,300 different species of birds. They enjoy tennis, that they even built a court in their backyard, and, downhill skiing — which they took up when he was 62.
Now, that they're much older and "decrepit" (as he put it), the couple now only plan a year in advance. The two of them enjoy the occasional breaks from the public life from which neither will yet retire. "Now when we have a quiet moment, like a birthday or something, we like to stay at home, just by ourselves, and enjoy a quiet day in our own house without any visitors and with minimum phone calls and emails coming in," he says.
He also adds that there's always more work to do, and that's something to enjoy as well. "We can take a lot of pride out of the folks with whom we meet," President Carter says. "Sometimes, when we go into a community where we built houses maybe 35 years ago, or 25, 20 years ago, we try to visit those Habitat sites just to look at them and meet some of the longtime homeowners," he adds.
"They’re very proud of their house. We never find any houses that we have built with graffiti on the outside walls or with broken windows or un-mowed lawns. … They set an example for everybody that lives around [them]." In 2020, the Carters plan to travel with Habitat to the Dominican Republic. "I think both mine and Rose’s minds are almost as good as they used to be, we just have limited capability on stamina and strength. But we still try to stay busy and do a good job at what we do," he says.