On a cool, shining November afternoon, two Secret Service agents wait impassively behind their sunglasses outside Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, speaking periodically into their wrists. Inside, fifty students taking a class in anthropology and international health are in their seats early, abuzz with anticipation. At 2 p.m., a gleaming black Chevy Suburban rolls smoothly into the circular driveway to pull up beside the small, nervously expectant group gathered on the sidewalk. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, silver-headed and distinguished in a dark suit, steps out, accompanied by a handful of aides and security. He graciously shakes hands with Jennifer Hirsch, the assistant professor whose class he’ll be teaching today, and poses briefly for a picture, flashing a practiced smile in the bright sun.

The scene is not entirely unfamiliar at Emory, but the former president’s presence still carries a charge that seems to thrill everyone he encounters. Without appearing to hurry, Carter sets a smart pace that sends those around him scrambling to keep up. In the classroom, he is both commanding and compelling, his down-to-business approach tempered by his mild humor and unmistakable Southern manner.

Carter describes for Hirsch’s students the twenty-year-old “marriage” between Emory and the Carter Center, the organization whose work has consumed him and his wife, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, since shortly after he left the Oval Office in 1981. Created to promote peace, democracy, and the resolution of conflict around the world, the center’s mission evolved to also address massive shortfalls in global health.

“The greatest needs,” Carter tells this class of potential public health professionals, “fall directly on the shoulders of public health. Most choose [this work] because of cultural, moral, or religious motivations.”

Carter, a University Distinguished Professor since 1982, says he enjoys teaching the occasional college class. “I’ve taught in all the schools at Emory,” he said in a recent interview with Emory Magazine from his home in Plains, Georgia. “It has kept me aware of the younger generation, their thoughts and ideals.”

This is, however, the first time Carter has appeared at the University as a Nobel laureate. He won the Nobel Prize for Peace on October 11, 2002, “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

Although Carter had been considered a candidate for the prize since he negotiated the Camp David Accords in 1978, his recent public stance on international affairs–including possible U.S. aggression toward Iraq–also played a part in his winning. When he accepted the Nobel gold medal in Oslo, Norway, in early December, Carter repeated the warning that he had issued at an Emory town hall event just weeks before the prize was announced–that war, sometimes a necessary evil, is “always an evil, never a good.”

“I am here not as a public official,” he said, “but as a citizen of a troubled world who finds hope in a growing consensus that the generally accepted goals of society are peace, freedom, human rights, environmental quality, the alleviation of suffering, and the rule of law.”

Over the past two decades, Carter has secured his reputation as the most effective and accomplished former U.S. president in history. At seventy-eight, he continues to guide the Carter Center with a sure hand, clear vision, and legendary drive. Charged with “waging peace, fighting disease, and building hope,” the center has helped resolve conflict in developing countries around the world. Always a leader by example, Carter, along with Rosalynn and center staff, has personally monitored dozens of elections around the world to ensure fairness in emerging democracies. He received the U.N. Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 1998 for the Carter Center’s worldwide efforts to preserve and promote human rights.

On the principle that health is a basic human right, Carter also has led the center to nearly eradicate the devastating Guinea worm disease in regions throughout Asia and Africa, reducing its incidence by 98 percent. Major inroads have been made in the fight against river blindness, or onchocerciasis, and trachoma in Africa and Latin America; efforts to combat schistosomiasis (“snail fever”) and lymphatic filariasis (“elephantiasis”) are succeeding as well. Agricultural programs aimed at cultivating self-sufficiency have helped African farmers increase their productivity by as much as 500 percent.

The Carters continue to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity for one week each year, building houses in the U.S. and abroad. Since his presidency, Carter also has written sixteen books.

In addition to teaching at Emory periodically and appearing at town hall events, Carter holds small monthly lunch meetings with various deans and professors to discuss the linkage between their programs at Emory and those at the Carter Center. The Carters also have a private breakfast each month with University President William M. Chace to talk about developments at the two institutions.

Because of Carter’s longstanding ties to Emory as a faculty member, Carter Center partner, colleague, and friend, leaders across the University greeted news of his Nobel Prize with shared pride and pleasure. James T. Laney, who was president of the University when the Carter Center was founded and helped form the partnership, says the honor was long overdue. As U.S. ambassador to Korea, Laney wrote a recommendation to the Nobel committee for Carter in 1994.

“It could have come earlier, and it would have been eminently justified,” Laney says. “But now it is a grand capstone of his life and career for which we all rejoice.”

“We have watched for years as this native son of Georgia has, since his presidency, advanced, in many different ways, a vision of healthy understanding among the nations and people of the world,” says Chace, who attended the Nobel ceremonies in Oslo. “He served his country well as president but he is now being recognized for all that he has so superbly done since that presidency.”

In his lecture to Hirsch’s public health class, Carter encapsulates, as neatly as possible in thirty minutes, these two decades of Nobel-worthy endeavors. Afterward, when a student asks him how he prioritizes the conflicting demands and influences he faces in situations around the globe, he reveals the uncompromising commitment and moral compassion that have marked his life as a leader and helped to earn him the honor many consider the highest in the world.

“One of the revelations that I have had since I left the White House,” he says, “is the inseparability of the factors that shape the quality of human life. Justice . . . peace . . . freedom . . . the alleviation of suffering. . . . I see it like this: all are of an equal nature.”

When class is over, Carter takes his leave with quintessential Southern graciousness. “Thank you,” he tells the students, and adds, without a trace of irony: “You have really inspired me this afternoon.”

When President Carter came home to Plains, Georgia, after being defeated for a second term in 1980, his future was uncertain. As he began to look to his post-presidential years, he was invited to partner with a number of institutions, including several universities and the University System of Georgia.

“I met with Dr. Laney, and I finally decided that I would rather go to a private institution,” Carter told Emory Magazine. “I wanted the unrestricted ability to speak to the students in a very frank and unrestrained way on controversial issues of the times, and I felt Emory would give me that opportunity. Since I have been a professor at Emory, I have always been able, in class and lecture halls and town meetings, to speak without restraint.”

Carter also was drawn to Emory because the institution had world-class ambition, yet was firmly planted in the soil of his homeland, in the fertile region whose culture, religion, politics, social structure, and agriculture shaped his identity from boyhood.

“I was always heavily affected in my attitude toward politics by the realization that I was the first president from the South since James K. Polk,” Carter says. “It was a wonderful blessing for me, but also something of an obligation not to betray that confidence, to represent the region positively and accurately. . . . I think the basic philosophy of Emory, the basic character, I consider to be Southern, while at the same time competing very well on a national and international basis in research and quality.”

The same year Carter became University Distinguished Professor, he created the Carter Center in partnership with Emory. At Laney’s suggestion, an office on the tenth floor of the Woodruff Library became the center’s first home, and its presence brought an air of excitement and prestige to the campus.

“I knew that the center would be unique, because it was to be a partnership between a former U.S. president with enormous energy and a university on the rise, and nothing like that had ever been tried before,” says Steve Hochman, now director of research for the center, who was one of the first three staff members assisting Carter in the library office. “However, no one imagined exactly how the Carter Center would develop.”

From the beginning, Carter’s vision for the center was focused on action. He also stipulated that the center would not duplicate the efforts of others but direct its resources toward needs not already being met.

“President Carter wanted Emory faculty to participate in action-oriented programs,” says Kenneth W. Stein, William Schatten Professor of Middle Eastern and Israeli Studies and the center’s Middle East fellow since 1986. “He was not interested in programs where we’d have a conference, write a book, and it would end up on a library shelf.”

By partnering with Emory, Carter had secured for the center a stable of experts in almost all imaginable aspects of world politics and health care, many of them scholars who were eager to venture out of the classroom to the farthest-flung African villages or the enclaves of Middle East governance to wield their knowledge for practical good. Like Stein, the earliest Carter Center fellows were Emory faculty members who served joint appointments, their dual roles informing and enriching one another. The growing relationship between the institutions was both organic and symbiotic.

“As the Carter Center evolved from the original concept of just conflict resolution to a wider range of programs involving health care and agriculture and democratization,” Carter says, “we saw the advantages of bringing in experts on these particular subjects, and it was a natural development to have them be jointly employed by the Carter Center and Emory. It’s been very advantageous for us over the years. There were times when almost all our fellows were Emory professors, but nowadays the Carter Center work is so extensive and challenging that the fellows have to concentrate mainly on their work at the center.”

In 1982, Stein was recruited to serve on a committee that helped outline the mission and structure of the Carter Center. At a planning retreat on the Georgia coast that included an array of top advisers from the Carter administration, Stein had a rare opportunity to sit by the ocean with the former president and discuss the Middle East and the Camp David Accords for several hours. It was an extraordinary, life-changing experience for Stein, a conversation which would later be the springboard for his book Heroic Diplomacy. On the plane home, Stein says, Emory President Jim Laney, who holds a degree in theology, commented on Stein’s intense talk with Carter. Stein says he asked Laney, “Can you imagine what it would have been like for you to have interviewed Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?” Laney raised an eyebrow and said, “It was that good?” And Stein replied without hesitation: “It was that good.”

Stein was one of many in the Emory community caught up by Carter’s ambition, influence, and can-do optimism. “There was a lot of energy and excitement in the air,” says Sam Nunn Professor of Law Harold J. Berman, who was named Carter Center fellow of Russian law in 1985. “We had fellows’ meetings where we discussed not only the future of the Carter Center, but the future of humankind. Jimmy Carter was terrific in those sessions. He ran those meetings with great dignity, imagination, and intelligence.”

Until the Carter Center facility opened in 1986, its major conferences, or consultations, as Carter dubbed them, were hosted at Emory. The first, in 1983, was a consultation among international leaders on the Middle East, directed by Stein, with former President Gerald Ford joining Carter as co-chair. It quickly became apparent how powerful the Carter Center could be, with a former president leading the charge; it also became clear that Emory would benefit as well.

“When we found ourselves associated with President Carter,” Stein says, “we were suddenly in an environment where he could call upon virtually any person in the world and ask them for advice, or ask anyone to confer with him at the Carter Center. After trips [to the Middle East] with the Carters, I could come back to my classes and say, ‘Three weeks ago I said this, and then last night, in a private conversation between Carter and the president of Jordan, this happened.’ There was not a single year when my exposure [to the center] did not make a difference in what I could bring to my students.”

In 1986, the Carter Center, housed alongside the Carter Presidential Library in a cluster of contemporary buildings and gardens located between Emory and downtown Atlanta, was dedicated with a gathering of dignitaries including President Ronald Reagan. In the ensuing years, as the center’s resources, staff, funding, and international reputation have risen and its peace and health programs both expanded and become more clearly defined, Carter has continued to look to Emory fellows to shape its mission and guide its work; the connection between the institutions is evolving still.

Richard Joseph, Asa Griggs Candler professor of political science, joined the Carter Center in 1988 as fellow for African studies to lead much of the center’s extensive efforts in Africa. Robert Pastor, formerly President Carter’s national security adviser for Latin America, became a fellow for Latin American affairs and Emory professor of political science.

Ellen Mickiewicz, then dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, also served as a fellow for the Commission on Radio and Television. She and Carter sponsored a program to help encourage free press in the Soviet Union in which they monitored Soviet telecasts through antennas atop two Emory buildings.

And William Foege, University Presidential Distinguished Professor of International Health, served as executive director of the Carter Center from 1986 until 1992. Foege, whom Carter describes as “one of my personal heroes,” previously had been director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was the first director of the Carter Center’s international health programs. More than any other, Foege’s vision and expertise shaped the Carter Center’s global health programs, guiding them to identify the greatest needs and meet them most effectively.

Currently, Joyce Murray, professor of adult and elder health at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, spends forty percent of her time working for the Carter Center and sixty percent for Emory. Murray recently was named director of the Center’s Ethiopia Public Health Training Initiative, an interdisciplinary teacher education program designed to give health professionals the tools needed to address care shortages.

Frank Richards, associate clinical professor of pediatric infectious disease at the medical school and an adjunct faculty member in the school of public health, spends most of his time directing the Carter Center’s river blindness programs. Although he doesn’t teach full time, he depends on Emory students to help with his research and analysis. They, in turn, learn how their public health education can be put to work.

In particular, the ties between the Carter Center and the Rollins School of Public Health are growing stronger. Rosalynn Carter, long an advocate for better treatment and prevention of mental illness, has worked with Emory’s public health programs to incorporate mental health into the curricula. In 1998, she established the Rosalynn Carter Endowed Chair in Mental Health.

“[One] of the main things that the Carter Center has tried to initiate has been the formation and expansion of the school of public health to deal with issues that we address,” Carter says.

From three people in an office at the top of Emory’s Woodruff Library, Carter has grown his idea into an internationally known and respected organization with a staff of 150, an annual budget of $35 million, and active programs all over the world. After twenty years, the center’s momentum is unstoppable.

“The Carter Center has built a reputation of integrity, of benevolence and care,” Carter says. “My personal role and that of Rosalynn is dropping off precipitously.”

Even as Carter continues to craft his legacy, it is clear that its impact can never be fully measured. But at least part of his achievement lies in those Emory scholars and students whom he has taught, inspired, and beckoned to service.

Student interns, who formed one of the earliest ties between Emory and the Carter Center, remain one of the strongest. The center recruits ten to twelve upperclassmen each semester, says Pete Mather, director of educational programs, and directors rely on them to keep tabs on political situations around the world and conduct research critical to the center’s mission.

For University senior and Woodruff scholar Robert Schwartz, his internship altered the course of his studies and his future. Schwartz became interested in the Carter Center after getting an autograph from the former president during his freshman year. Now he plans to write his thesis on free trade in the Americas, based on knowledge he gained at the Carter Center.

“Everything I have learned at Emory, I am now applying at the Carter Center,” said Schwartz, in a recent speech to the Emory Board of Trustees. “I write biweekly updates for President Carter on Cuba, and I am in the process of preparing a report on the electoral situation in Argentina for Dr. [Shelley] McConnell. In turn, the Carter Center has given me amazing opportunities. I have been able to attend the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Negotiations, and . . . I gave input on President Carter’s ‘Open Letter of Invitation to the Americas,’ which [Atlanta] Mayor [Shirley] Franklin read in Quito. Dr. McConnell actually listened to my advice, and I was so proud to see the results of our conversation not only in the Associated Press, but also on the front page of the Emory Wheel.

“I truly have made a difference, at Emory, at the Carter Center, and in the world.”



© 2002 Emory University