Nearly four decades after voters unceremoniously rejected then-President Jimmy Carter’s bid for a second term, the 39th president has reached a milestone that electoral math cannot dispute: He is now the longest-living chief executive in American history.
Friday is the 172nd day beyond Carter’s 94th birthday, exceeding by one day the lifespan of former President George H.W. Bush, who died Nov. 30 at the age of 94 years, 171 days. Both men were born in 1924: Bush on June 12, Carter on Oct. 1.
It’s yet another post-presidency distinction for Carter, whose legacy since leaving office has long overshadowed both his rocky White House tenure and the remarkable political rise that led him from his family peanut farm and a state Senate seat to the governor’s mansion and his unlikely presidential victory in 1976.
The achievement also defies medical odds, coming more than three years after Carter announced he had melanoma that had spread to his liver and brain. He underwent treatment and received a clean bill of health.
“There are no special celebrations planned,” said Deanna Congileo, spokeswoman for the former president and The Carter Center, which Carter and his wife, Rosaylnn, now 91, founded in Atlanta in 1982 to focus on global human rights issues.
The center’s decades of public health advocacy, election-monitoring and conflict resolution around the world have redefined the role of former presidents, who before Carter often retired to relative obscurity.
“We at The Carter Center sure are rooting for him and grateful for his long life of service that has benefited millions of the world’s poorest people,” Congileo said.
Seemingly downplaying his political career, Carter has for years characterized the center’s work as his defining professional achievement — though, of course, having been a U.S. president is what allowed him the stature to establish the center.
“I spent four of my ninety years in the White House, and they were, of course, the pinnacle of my political life,” Carter wrote in a memoir published on his 90th birthday. “Those years, though, do not dominate my chain of memories, and there was never an orderly or planned path to get there during my early life.”
Rather, he continued, “Teaching, writing and helping The Carter Center evolve … seem to constitute the high points in my life.”
The former president and first lady still live in Plains, Georgia, a town of about 750 where they were born, raised and married 73 years ago, weeks after the future commander in chief graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy.
As for what’s next, Carter has at least one more accomplishment on his mind, pointing often to The Carter Center’s long-running effort to eliminate Guinea worm disease, a parasitic infection attributed to poor drinking water.
“I’m hoping that I will live longer than the last Guinea worm,” he said in a British television interview in 2016. “That’s one of my goals in life, and I think I have a good chance to succeed.”