Friends of former President Jimmy Carter talk on his legacy in Plains on his 99th birthday

Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 10:18 AM EDT
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PLAINS, Ga. (WTVM) - Former President Jimmy Carter’s birthday was widely celebrated by many people throughout the nation on October 1 - however, it was especially celebrated in his hometown of Plains.

News Leader 9 spoke with some of former President Carter’s friends on what he means to Plains on his 99th birthday.

“Well, Plains was just a simple little town. I’ll never had an idea that would produce a President.”

“Someone asked me earlier how would I describe Plains? And I said it was like a time capsule. They really try to stay true to the essence of who made Jimmy Carter who he is.”

“His sister, Ruth, was my best friend,” said Allene Haugabook, lifelong friend of Jimmy Carter. “We were doing some climbing and moving around. So I had on Jimmy’s pants and shirt, and I told him, I said, ‘If I had known you were going to be president, I would have probably kept those clothes.’ He said, ‘I probably still got them.’ That might be the truth.”

“I’ve known him most of my adult life. All my adult life,” said Henry Earl Coleman. “And so it’s it just makes you see how small the world is.”

“I met President Carter 16 years ago at the Plains Peanut Festival. I was the Georgia Peanut Queen. And so I came for the parade, rode in the parade, and then later was introduced to him and Mrs. Carter,” said Jennifer Hopkins, Education Technician at Jimmy Carter National Park. “And he actually signed my sash. So I have his autograph and Mrs. Carter’s autograph on my peanut sash. And that was just a really special moment.”

“We had a store of what we call a commissary, which was quite common in rural areas because they provided the basic necessities that had to be followed by,” said President Jimmy Carter in a recording at the Jimmy Carter National Park.

“The workers and their families as well. And Ruth and I had gotten some old linen shoes, heeled shoes, and walk to school and had people autograph them,” said Haugabook. “And I thought, oh, I wish I had kept those. That would be something to show. But I had no idea he would turn out to be president.”

“So he was here. The last time he was here was a couple of months ago,” said Hopkins. “So after he entered hospice care, he did come for a visit to walk through his home. And I think that’s just shows the sentimental value that this place has for him.”

“He’s just a extraordinary person. But to us, he’s just an ordinary,” said Coleman.

“Hard worker down to earth, honest .Again, when I personally met him, you know, you wouldn’t think that you were meeting the President of the United States. He did not have this heir about him where he thought he was better than the person next to him. He really did have a hometown feel,” said Hopkins.

“He’s a lifetime member of the Lion’s Club. And he came to one of our Christmas parties. I decided I was going to have a band playing. So I got I had a washboard and I called on Mr. Carter,” said Coleman. “I said, ‘Jimmy, would you play?’ And he said, ‘Okay.’ And so we had spoons and whatever. And we were singing and carrying on. And here’s a president with an old washboard. Boy, he was going at it.”

“When he became governor, it didn’t seem to make much difference. People were not coming into the town a lot. But when he became president, it made a big difference, and it always will,” said Haugabook.

“And where there had been less trust built unity,” said President Carter during his inauguration speech.

“And we had a family reunion. And Jimmy come out on his bicycle. I don’t know if he knew we were having a family reunion or not, but he came out anyway,” said Coleman. “And when he got there, he just went around mingling with the people, talking and carrying on.”

“When he was running for president, we lived in Columbus, but I would come back to Plains every time he was here, you know, on the flatbed truck. And I thought, you know, I believe he’s going to really be the president, the folks that have the pinch myself. So he was one Jimmy in Plains to me and then he was another Jimmy when he was about to be president and became president,” said Haugabook.

“And so I think he’s made a really good impact, not just on our local economy, but definitely Georgia’s economy,” said Hopkins. “I know a ton of people would flood in to hear his Sunday school sermons.”

“Praising God as praising God for who God is,” said Carter during a church sermon.

“I expect to be 100 too. He’s not 100 yet, but you just watch. He’s going to make a 100,”said Coleman.

“Happy birthday to you, Jimmy. 99 is a lot of years. A lot of them have been mighty good and exciting. So happy birthday. I tried to catch up with you, but it don’t work,” said Haugabook.

Last month, the Carters received the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Lifetime Achievement Award.