The Suitcase Lady


July 4, 2017, 10:43 am

It’s the Fourth of July, and many of us are not in a celebratory mood. We are too consumed by fear that the precious remains of our Democracy are slipping away. But instead of expounding on our national nightmare, I would like to think of the greatness that remains in our country.

Heroes these days tend to be superheroes, fictitious characters that  swoop in and miraculously, and often violently, fix all problems. Real heroes, on the other hand, have strong moral compasses, incredible work ethics, unglamorous lives and the usual human failings.

The patriots I have in mind live in a modest mid century ranch house and were thrilled when a Dollar General store moved into their tiny rural town. They sleep in a Murphy bed when they visit their other place…The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

After leaving the White House in 1981, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter went home to Plains, Georgia. Wishing to give purpose to their remaining years, they conceived the idea for the Carter Center. A nongovernmental organization, the Carter Center has three objectives: waging peace, fighting disease, and building hope.

I will site only one of their many achievements. The health initiative focuses on neglected and life-destroying tropical diseases. When the Center started working to eliminate Guinea worm disease, there were 3.5 million cases in 21 countries. In 2017, only 25 cases were reported worldwide……eradication is clearly in sight. This was accomplished with a small staff and a modest budget compared to other “charities”.

The two people who have done so much to improve the lives of millions worldwide are utterly human. Rosalynn was a teenager when she married Jimmy on July 7, 1946. She was a navy wife for the first seven years of their marriage and her husband was a nuclear physicist working on submarines. Then Carter’s father died and Jimmy decided to return to Georgia as there was no one else to run the family peanut farm business. Rosalynn loved the Navy life.

I must note that what I retell next I heard first hand from the Carters at a Carter Center meeting.

It seems that Jimmy Carter unilaterally made the decision to retire from the Navy and go home to Plains. Rosalynn was furious that she was not included in the decision making process. Being a true Steel Magnolia, she took action, or I should say, inaction. The long drive from Schenectady to Plains was a silent one……..she refused to speak to her spouse for days. President Carter now publicly acknowledges that he did not take the high or fair road in this situation.

In 2009, Jimmy Carter wrote an open letter to his church of 60 years, the Southern Baptist Convention, severing his ties because of the second class status they accord women. He has since been a champion of women’s rights stating that, “The most serious violation of human rights on earth is the abuse of women and girls.”

Many more heroes will emerge as the American story continues. My ardent wish is that the majority of Americans recognize them when they appear.

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