With Jason Carter as speaker for their 2015 Independence Gala, Bulloch County Democrats ended up hearing from the Carter Center’s incoming chairman at an emotionally charged time for the first family of the Democratic Party in Georgia.
When invited to speak, Carter, 40, was best known as last year’s Democratic nominee for governor. Then his grandfather, President Jimmy Carter, 90, revealed in a press conference Thursday that a previously treated cancer has spread to his brain.
At the Carter Center in Atlanta, the former president spoke with calm candor about his illness and planned treatment and with humor and gratitude of the life he has lived. In reporting this, the Associated Press also noted that Jason Carter will chair the Carter Center’s board of trustees.
The younger Carter was interviewed on his way into the gala Friday night in the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center ballroom on the Georgia Southern University campus.
Jason Carter’s plans
After a competitive campaign against Republican incumbent Nathan Deal for governor last year, Carter was uncertain if he would seek office again.
“I don’t know at this point,” Carter said. “You know, there’s a lot that’s going on in my family over the last several days, and there’s new obligations that I have and other things that are out there that I need to take care of. But the things that were compelling to me are still compelling to me.”
Those things include “doing right by education,” improving ethics in government, and “making sure that we’ve got an economy that works for everybody,” he said.
“Those issues, to me, are still facing the state, so I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, but I can’t tell you for sure,” Carter said.
Carter talked about the strength he has seen in his famous grandfather since learning his cancer had spread.
“It is an amazing thing to watch him confront this diagnosis with the faith and the grace and the dignity that he has, and that has really sustained the family, I think, and made it so much easier for us to deal with it, because we’re sad but we watch him and his strength and know that he isn’t sad, and so that’s been really helpful for us,” Carter said.
Jason Carter said he is hopeful to continue the good works of the Carter Center in his new role as chairman, which takes effect in November.
His grandparents, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, founded the Carter Center, a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization for advancing human rights and alleviating suffering, in 1982. Its work has ranged from combatting parasitic river blindness in Africa and reducing the social stigma associated with mental illness in the United States to mediating conflicts and monitoring elections in many countries.
The former president and first lady still serve on the board, but Jimmy Carter has not been its chair in more than a decade. Jason Carter has been a board member for years and has been in charge of strategic planning for four years as the center prepares for a transition.
The trustees chose him in March to succeed Ken C. “Oz” Nelson, the current chair, in November.
“It seems that my grandfather just told people that yesterday,” Carter said. “So it becomes effective in November, but it’s been part of this transition process that’s ongoing to make sure that the Carter Center is in a good place for the future.”
His great-grandmother, Lillian Carter, who was a nurse, famously served as a Peace Corps volunteer in India at age 68. He followed somewhat in her footsteps, as a volunteer with the Peace Corps in South Africa on education projects in rural areas, but while still in his 20s. With the Carter Center, he has served as an observer in efforts to ensure free and fair elections in several countries.
“I still will continue to do those types of things for the center, but really, the experts at the Carter Center, and the CEO, Ambassador Peters, they’re the ones that really do the work, and the board’s job is to see that it continues on in a way faithful to the legacy and principles that it was founded on,” Carter said.
Mary Ann Peters, a career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh from 2000 to 2003, became the Carter Center’s chief executive officer last September.
Once inside the hall, Carter made the rounds, visiting every table and trying to greet each person individually. Many asked about his grandfather or expressed wishes for his recovery, as Carter acknowledged when he came to the lectern.
Julian Bond remembered
Other speakers offered remarks in tribute to Jimmy Carter and in memory of Julian Bond, the national civil rights leader and longtime Georgia legislator who died Aug. 15. Dr. Francys Johnson, Georgia NAACP state president as well as a Statesboro attorney and Baptist minister, gave the speaker’s introduction.
“‘We should all live like Jesus Christ is coming back this evening,’ – words from the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter,” Johnson quoted.
He then cited Bond as chairman emeritus of the NAACP and president emeritus of the Southern Poverty Law Center: “If we had more social justice, we would need less social services.”
“In a real sense, although Jason is speaking tonight, I know that I, along with many other Democrats, am thinking of these great giants passing through our midst,” Johnson said.
At the lectern, Carter again spoke of his grandfather as setting an example of faith and gratitude with his public comments about his illness.
He said his grandfather’s rise from Plains, a farming town of 700 people, illustrates what should still be a principle of the Democratic Party.
“We need to be able to say, you can come from anywhere and succeed,” he said.
In his 2014 campaign challenging Deal, the younger Carter rarely talked about the former president.
“I spent all year last year being my own person, and I think that’s important and it was valuable and you know I wasn’t allowed to get up every day and talk about how much my grandfather means to me for a host of reasons,” Carter said as he concluded remarks. “But this week, indulge me.”
A graduate of Duke University and of the University of Georgia Law School, Carter practices law with an Atlanta firm and served in the Georgia Senate from 2010 until January. He was going to Plains to attend his grandmother’s birthday party Saturday.
Dr. John Howard Brown, Democratic Party of Bulloch County chairman, observed that more people turned out for the Fifth Annual Gala than for some previous party events. With most tables full, about 140 people attended. Tickets sold for $35 per person or $250 for a table for eight.
The local party honored Edith Stanley with the 2015 Pat Gillis Democratic Champion Award and Dr. Charles Bonds with the George Jackson Public Servant Award. Frank Marina and Dr. Brenda Marina, together, were presented the Joe Bill Brannon Civic Engagement Award. Jonathan McCollar, who suggested the first gala more than four years ago and has run for mayor and state representative, received the party’s Charlie Lewis Sr. Democratic Pioneer Award.
Brown, new as county chair this year but who had served once before, presented an appreciation award to previous Bulloch Democrats chair Bill Herring, now the party’s 12th District chair.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.