With shutdown looming, celebration for Jimmy Carter’s 99th birthday starts early
President Jimmy Carter will celebrate his 99th birthday Sunday, and the Carter Center in Atlanta has kicked off the party early.
The main event will be held Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., with a birthday cake, food trucks, family-friendly games and activities, and stories from Dot Padgett, one of the original members of Carter’s “peanut brigade,” a grassroots group of die-hard supporters who put in the legwork to help him get elected.
Most of the festivities were moved to Saturday ahead of the expected government shutdown on Sunday, but some events are scheduled to go on anyway, including a naturalization ceremony for 99 new American citizens and the continued display of a large birthday mosaic near the museum’s entrance. The mosaic, which is displayed on a large screen, contains over 14,000 photos and video messages from well-wishers.
The Carter party planners are taking the news in stride, said Tony Clark, director of public affairs at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.
“We are always hopeful that everything will turn out,” he said. “We’re set to celebrate on Sunday.”
Clark said the center has received such an outpouring of support that extending the celebration into multiple days made sense in retrospect.
“We started last week with a birthday card, we had an event earlier this week with Ambassador Andrew Young,” he said. “Our mistake was starting out thinking we could do it all on Sunday, and we really found that we had to start earlier than that. So we’re looking forward to people being able to come here on Sunday as well, but, you know, we’re gonna be celebrating Saturday, and that’s great too.”
Admission to the museum, which is typically $12 for an adult, will be 99 cents during the party on Saturday.
“Back almost 10 years ago, we started tying our admission on the President and Mrs. (Rosalynn) Carter’s birthday to their age, and I have always been waiting for them to get to be 100 so we can charge a dollar,” Clark said.
Not long ago, many did not expect Carter to see his 99th birthday. In February, the Carter family announced the former president had “decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention.”
The announcement sent flocks of reporters to Carter’s hometown of Plains, where residents told the Recorder – correctly, it turns out – that the 98-year-old still had some fight in him.
The Carters delighted supporters in Plains last weekend with a surprise appearance at the Plains Peanut Festival. The pair greeted festival-goers from the back of an SUV.
Clark said the presidential pair will not be making an appearance in Atlanta over the weekend, but will celebrate with family in Plains.
Carter is the only president from Georgia and is the longest-lived president in the country’s history. Only five other presidents have lived to see their 90s, and the second longest-lived president was George H.W. Bush, who lived to 94.
Clark said what he admires most about the former president is the affection he shows for his wife after 77 years of marriage.
“They used to spend three or four days here every month before the pandemic, and they would walk the grounds every afternoon, hand in hand,” he said.
On one occasion, the Carters were visiting with a group of schoolchildren when Jimmy Carter had to leave to attend to some business, but he rushed back when the children began singing Rosalynn Carter’s favorite song, John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
“He immediately turned around and came back and stood beside her with his arm around her waist,” he said. “And it was just such a touching scene of the two of them, the affection that they had for each other.”
The Carter Center announced in May that Rosalynn Carter, who is 96, has been diagnosed with dementia, but the two still live in their humble ranch-style home in Plains.
The museum contains relics from the couple’s lives, from the highchair Carter sat in as a baby to political campaign buttons to the Nobel Prize he was awarded in 2002 for his work during and after his presidency, including mediating international conflicts, battling tropical diseases and pushing human rights.
Gerald Kline visited the museum Friday along with his wife, Dee Kline, and her cousin, Susan Adler Thorp, who was visiting from Mephis.
“He’s had that miracle of long life, and with his mate for life together as well,” Gerald Kline said. “So it’s just very wonderful for both of them to be here at this stage and have their life and marriage together. So I think that’s an extra benefit. That’s a great present for him.”
“Isn’t it cosmic justice that the kind of man that Carter was, simple and humble, that he should live longer than any other president in the U.S.?” Thorp said.
“And did so much more after his one term than any former president has ever done or probably will ever do,” said Dee Kline. “I mean, all the good that the Carter Center does over the years and will continue after his death is really a testament to his vision, his and Rosalynn’s.”