September 25, 2000
Volume 53, No.5
Carter Town Hall humorous, touching
By Eric Rangus
At his 19th annual Town Hall Meeting, former President Jimmy Carter entertained the large crowd at the P.E. Center last Thursday, Sept. 21, with his dry wit and refreshing candor, then wrapped up the hour-long presentation with a moving story about his father.
A relaxed Carter showed his sense of humor early and often. Just after stepping to the podium, he said he was perhaps the only president who has used the office as a springboard to bigger and better things.
While Carter's humanitarian work of the last 20 years has been well lauded, that wasn't what he meant. "I was a farm boy for 16-and-a-half years; I was in the navy for 11 years; I was in the state senate for four years, governor for four years, and I was involuntarily retired from the presidency after four years," Carter said. "But I've been a distinguished professor at Emory for 19 years. It's the best and longest job I've ever had." Enthusiastic applause followed, as it did much of the evening.
Carter even injected humor into some of his touching stories. During the question-and-answer period, which took up a majority of the evening, Carter was asked how he met his wife Rosalynn and how he asked her to marry him.
He told how Rosalynn was three years younger than him and how she actually lived next door when she was a baby. As they grew up, Rosalynn was a friend of Carter's younger sister, and he didn't pay much attention to her.
One night, though, while on leave from the navy and in uniform, Carter asked her to a movie. The next morning, Carter said, his mother asked what he had done the previous night, "I went to a movie," he said. Miss Lillian then asked if he went with someone; Carter said Rosalynn Smith. Carter's mom asked what he thought of her.
"I said, 'She's the one I want to marry," Carter related. He then said the first time he asked her she said no. "But now we've been together with relative harmony for 54-and-a-half years," Carter said to a mixture of laughter and applause. "I'm thankful this is the Year of Reconciliation at Emory," he quipped.
Several questions, naturally, had a more political bent. Carter was asked about school vouchers (he does not support them), the war on drugs (spending money to control the flow if drugs is fine, but much more must be spent on rehabilitation), and whether any important issues have been ignored by the current presidential candidates (foreign policy and Third World poverty).
Carter also received the occasional quirky question: "If you were stranded on a desert island with one other president, who would it be?" Carter answered Thomas Jefferson.
The evening came to its emotional highpoint with the final question: "If you could say one thing to your father, what would it be?"
Carter began his answer with another humorous reply. "I might say, 'Daddy, I was elected president.' But I think his answer would be the same as my mother's when I told her I was going to run for president. She said, 'President of what?'"
Carter then got serious. He admitted his relationship with his stern father, who died while Carter was a naval officer, was difficult, but he always wanted to please him. "My father was my idol, almost my god," he said. Carter continued by saying he rarely received any affection from his father.
"Then I realized I had the same attitude with my three sons," he said. "I was reluctant to congratulate them for doing a good job. It was only at my father's bedside when I realized I was just like him."
After his father died, Carter was on his way back to Schenectady, N.Y., where he was stationed, when he decided to resign his commission and return to Georgia.
"I would tell him that I went back to Plains and tried to copy him," Carter said, fighting back tears. Many members of the crowd were not as successful.
Carter was preceded at the podium by Student Government Association President Moses Kim, University President Bill Chace and Dooley, who greeted the former president and addressed the crowd through a member of his black-suited, white-gloved, dark-shaded entourage.