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Carter example of how work should be done

Carter example of how work should be done
Carter example of how work should be done
Judy O'Bannon interviews former President Jimmy Carter during a Habitat for Humanity build Friday in Mishawaka. Submitted photo
Judy O'Bannon
Judy O’Bannon

During the past week, we have heard a lot of discussion as to what is good leadership. With the passing of Sen. John McCain, there were community discussions as to what it means to display heroism, courage, integrity and dedication.
John McCain himself was a bigger-than-life figure, and those who honored him with their words were eloquent and powerful in themselves. The ceremonies and press coverage were full of pomp and tradition. Such a high period of drama calls for a nation to look at what it means to be a worthy citizen. And, indeed, it caused us all to look in the mirror and to secretly ask ourselves if we could measure up if called upon to serve.
Meanwhile, this past week I was with a leader of another style. Not a loud or flashy guy, but no less a hero to our country.
I’d like to share with you the story of this extraordinary encounter.
I am working on a program for the television series I co-produce for Public Broadcasting. We are traveling around Indiana, recording stories of positive things people are doing to create a healthy environment that is sustainable. I couldn’t believe it when my co-producer said he had scheduled an interview for me with past President Jimmy Carter who would be attending a Habit for Humanity build in northern Indiana.
As the day approached, I worried that the heat might detour the almost 94-year-old past president. But on that bright and humid day in Mishawaka, there were both Mrs. Carter, age 91, and her husband pounding nails in the framework for a house. They joined the 2,000 volunteers who had come from all over the world to build 42 homes for people in need of a helping hand.
This wasn’t a one-time thing for the Carters. No, it was the 34th year they had helped Habitat for Humanity.
The Carters’ practice is to attend such a build for five straight days. They actually hammer nails in addition to taking interviews for a half-hour twice a day. Very few of us would want to face such rigors when we are in our ‘golden years.’
Waiting for my turn to talk with President Carter, I watched intently as he chatted with a young woman. She was lively and dressed a bit in the unexpected for such an interview. She was quite the comedian, and they both laughed continually. Later, I was told they were doing a live Facebook feed. Most of us oldies don’t have any idea of what that really is.
I was a bit worried as my habit is to be quite serious when discussing a topic in an interview. But, President Carter, in his unpretentious manner of an accepting smile and twinkling eyes, just hit my comfort zone immediately. He did not talk about himself. He talked about the wonderful work of Habitat for Humanity. He spoke of the value of the effort to both volunteers and those who received the homes. He emphasized the responsibilities of future home recipients and the stellar track record of the organization. He spoke of how each home built enhanced the total community. He spoke as the humble man of faith, a public servant and the humanitarian we know him to be.
Why does he keep coming to Habitat builds? President Carter stressed how grateful he was to be part of a team that is actually building something to better the lives of others. What is the better? People are often for the first time in their lives trained to handle the finances and maintenance of their own homes. For many families, it is new to live with the support of a stable community. He stressed that the human environment is an essential partner with the built and natural environments of our planet.
I gave him several leading questions that would have invited him to boast of himself and his work. He immediately turned to speaking about other volunteers and their valuable service. I call this a real servant leader.
I know people teased that he was just a peanut farmer when he ran for president. He still today looks back to his childhood of growing up on a farm and the lessons he learned there. He reminisced about his dad taking him to church where he heard the minister speak on ‘stewardship Sunday’ of God’s creation as something sacred to be protected.
President Carter isn’t just a ‘nice guy.’ While president, he mediated the negotiation between Israel and Egypt which became the ‘Camp David Accord.’ In 1998, he was awarded the United Nations Human Rights prize and, in 2002, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. The Carter Center is currently active in creating peace and health throughout the world.
I don’t get to talk to great leaders every day, but I do get to visit and interact with everyday people who are making a difference in this world.
We can all affect the environment around us; people, land, air, soil, buildings and infrastructure. It matters how we do our work and the words we say to do it. It seems to me the quiet humble ex-president and once again peanut farmer sets a good example for all of us. I am so grateful he crossed my path in these troubling times.