Jimmy Carter

As Former President Jimmy Carter Lives Out Final Days, People Reflect on His Legacy

Experts say history will remember Carter largely for his humanitarian efforts, post-presidency.

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It was announced Saturday that former President, Jimmy Carter has entered hospice care. The nation’s oldest living president has decided to forego further medical treatment and will spend his final days at home with family.

Reflecting on his legacy Monday, some recall the challenges. In 2015, Carter was diagnosed with cancerous melanoma that spread to his liver and brain, but he was later declared cancer-free. Aside from health challenges there were also political ones. Most notably the Iran hostage crisis. University of New Haven Political Science Professor, Dr. Trish Crouse, says he approached that like he did most things.

“He had these high ethical principles, and he brought all of that to his presidency,” said Crouse.

Crouse says those ethical principles guided Carter’s decisions and defined who he was.

“I’ve never seen a president with a bigger moral compass,” Crouse said. 

Those values carried into the president’s future as he continued his humanitarian work. For 30 plus years he advocated and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, and in 2002 he was recognized for a lifetime of diplomacy with the Nobel Peace Prize. This, some believe, is where he left the biggest impression.

“He shined after being president, and I think his legacy will be as a great humanitarian,” said Lisa Lenkiewicz of West Hartford.

As the nation’s 39th president lives out his final days, some are reflecting on that humanitarian legacy which could largely be defined after leaving office in 1981.

“He never was interested in making money off the presidency,” explained Crouse. “His whole perspective was 'what can I do to make the world a better place.'”

Central to his humanitarian efforts was Carter’s work with Habitat for Humanity.  Kristopher McKelvie is the construction director for Hartford’s Habitat chapter, and remembers working directly with Carter in 2019, building a home in Nashville.

“He would be dropped off (in the morning) on the job site by Secret Service and he would get right to work, and he’d want to be there all day,” said McKelvie.

Carter and former first lady Rosalyn Carter first became involved in the humanitarian home building project in 1984. Up until 2019, the former president was still very hands-on.

“I think in recent years, people had to chase tools out of his hands, to make sure that he doesn’t overdo it.” McKelvie added.

It’s this life work, post presidency, that some political science experts say is what he will truly be remembered for.

“He never stopped caring about the United States and about the American people,” said Crouse. “So, I think that’s a big part of what his legacy will show.”

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