Jimmy Carter turns 90: 9 things you may not know about him
(CNN) — Jimmy Carter’s presidency swirled with turmoil, but his post-White House work promoting human rights, democracy and peace has earned him high praise. Carter turned 90 Wednesday. Here are a few facts to help reflect on the long life of America’s 39th president:
1. The son of a farmer
Carter was the first president who was born in a hospital, but he was taken back to a house that had no electricity or indoor plumbing. He put tiny Plains, Georgia, in the American consciousness as his hometown. That’s where he was born, but he grew up in nearby Archery, the son of a peanut farmer.
2. Peace and peanuts
Peanuts were so associated with Carter that they graced the elegant tables at the dinner following the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway, in December 2002. Carter was the second Georgian to win the coveted prize — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. won it in 1964.
3. Keeping the faith
Carter was the first evangelical Christian elected president. He was open about his faith while in the White House and often discussed how it guided him in so many of his deeds and decisions. He, like Barack Obama, was influenced by the social theology of Reinhold Niebuhr. Carter has been teaching Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains since he left the White House and spends a week every year with Habitat for Humanity to help build homes for the needy.
Carter is known for promoting peace, but he studied nuclear physics and was a senior naval officer of the USS Seawolf, America’s second nuclear submarine.
5. Farmer, president, peacemaker, author
Carter loves to read, but he’s also a prolific author. He has published 28 books; several are biographical, including “Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President” and “White House Diary,” a behind-the-scenes look at Carter’s four years in the White House.
6. Attack of the killer rabbit
One incident in particular made Carter laugh years later but was hardly humorous at the time. During a 1979 fishing trip in Georgia, Carter had used a paddle to splash a rabbit from swimming too close to his boat. A photographer snapped a picture, and media headlines screamed that the president had been “attacked” by a “killer rabbit.” The story further diminished Carter’s waning popularity; The Washington Post described it as a “symbolic preamble to his landslide loss” in 1980.
7. Lust in his heart
In another media controversy, Carter admitted in a Playboy interview he “looked on a lot of women with lust” and had “committed adultery in my heart many times.” The odd confessions of a presidential candidate in a sex magazine seemed off to many Americans, perhaps more so because of Carter’s religiosity.
8. Iconic walk
These days, it’s expected that a new president and his family will walk down Pennsylvania Avenue after the inaugural ceremony. Yes, many of us remember Michelle Obama in her J. Crew sage green gloves and low-heeled Jimmy Choo pumps. The walk was a tradition started by Carter, though the idea was not his. It came from Sen. William Proxmire of Wisconsin, and Carter dismissed it at first. But later he decided it was a good idea. “I began to realize that the symbolism of our leaving the armored car would be more far-reaching than simply to promote exercise,” he wrote in his book “Keeping Faith.” He thought it would help him be one with the people and quell public anger directed at the White House over the Vietnam War and Watergate.
9. Solar panels and SALT
History is bound to judge Carter’s post-presidency more kindly than his years in the White House. But Carter had quite a few successes as president and was able to get Congress to pass a chunk of his legislative agenda.
Carter was big on energy and the environment and installed the first solar panels in the White House during the oil crisis in 1979.
He created the Department of Energy and established a national policy to address the energy shortage. He reformed civil service to make government more efficient, deregulated the trucking and airline industries and expanded the national parks system to protect more lands. He appointed record numbers of women and minorities to federal posts.
In foreign affairs, he is remembered for the disastrous Iran hostage crisis, but Carter also championed human rights and brokered the Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt. He returned control of the Panama Canal to Panama, helping improve a tainted image of the United States in Latin America. He continued efforts to establish full diplomatic relations with China. He also finished negotiations of the SALT II nuclear limitations treaty with the Soviet Union, a huge feat during the days of the Cold War.
CNN’s Moni Basu covered Jimmy Carter extensively as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her on Twitter.