August 23, 1999
Volume 52, No. 1
Carters honored with Presidential Medals of Freedom
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, the husband and wife who "have done more good things for more people in more places than any other couple on earth," received Presidential Medals of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, from Bill Clinton in a moving ceremony Aug. 9 at The Carter Center.
The center's Day Chapel was filled to capacity with friends and family of the Carters, with such notables in attendance as Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, former mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Attorney General Janet Reno and Ga. Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, not to mention President Bill Chace and a host of other business and community leaders. TV cameras and reporters with notebooks, both local and from the White House press corps, filled the shadows in the back of the room.
Clinton called Carter's post-presidential work "truly unprecedented in American history, but to call him the 'greatest former president' does not do justice to him or his work. Jimmy Carter's work as president broke new ground and is still shaping events today." Rosalynn Carter will be remembered as "a pioneer for mental health and a champion of our children," Clinton added.
"Mr. President, I'm almost speechless," Jimmy Carter said in accepting the medal. Carter and his wife talked about the "embarrassment, frustration and despair" they felt leaving the White House, only to find waiting for them work more valuable than they could have imagined.
Though the ceremony was at times emotional, it also had its light moments. The Carters gave several tips to Clinton, whose second term as president will end in January 2001. "It will only be a few months before you join our small fraternity," Carter said of himself and former presidents George Bush, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. "I might point out that all but one of us was involuntarily retired.
"There are some downsides," Carter deadpanned. "Golfing partners don't give as many mulligans to ex-presidents as they do to presidents."