To represent is human, to serve is more human?

By Maria Montalvo | Jun 21, 2010
It has been said that Jimmy Carter is a better man than he was a president.
Carter presided over the United States during the last years of the “Me Decade”, and in this role, he did not excel in the eyes of most.

Then and now, though, he did exemplify the attribute that convinced the country to vote for him: a commitment to service.

His great moment as President, when Sadat and Begin shook hands, showed a courage and determination to work for the public good that would eventually lead to a Nobel Peace Prize.

The election of 1976 brought about very animated discussions in my first-grade class, and it is the first election I remember. (I stood squarely on the side of the man who would ensure children would still receive milk in school if they needed it, and I have not moved far from that perspective.)

Carter’s four years in the White House followed a decade of turmoil in the country and in the world.

My parents protected me from the images of violence in and because of Viet Nam and of the growing hostilities in the Middle East, but eventually the results of the Mid-East conflict and the oil crisis were a part of everyday life: coverage of hostages hooded and held at gunpoint on TV, waiting in line at gas stations with my dad and brother, and unemployment lines circling for blocks.

The images took over his dogged determination and apparent inability for self-promotion.

Carter left office during a crisis and only carried six states to Ronald Reagan’s 44, but over the years (and throughout my formative years), Carter transformed himself in the eyes of Americans again to a man of service.

Many of us have helped to build a house during a Habitat for Humanity weekend, and anyone who watches the news has witnessed a free and fair election in a distant land with guidance from The Carter Center.

Jimmy Carter influenced some from a cynical generation to be more like Jimmy, rather than follow the advice of the commercial expounding the virtues of being “like Mike.”

I have met a few Jimmy’s in my life…men and women who sacrifice a bit more than most to help someone else.

This year, I worked with a Soldier who was worried about his family suffering through his multiple deployments to Iraq, but who still made time to raise funds for wounded veterans battling traumatic brain injuries.

In 1987, my mother took in two high school seniors (into her already busy schedule of caring for two kids, a husband, her mother, and two dogs) when their mother could not keep up with the challenges of raising twin girls.

Every day, right here in Edmonds, citizens work tirelessly in the spirit of service to raise funds for playgrounds, to keep local kids from having to choose between meals and school supplies, and even to protect the frogs and wildlife beginning to disappear around us. 

As we close in on the 4th of July, it is important for us to know that the Edmonds’ parades and fireworks display take place only because of the hard work and contributions of volunteers, local Jimmy’s who want to celebrate America’s founding but also who strive to serve their community.

This July, Edmonds also has to say goodbye to a Mayor who has served for 11 years.

Although the similarities between Gary Haakenson and Jimmy Carter and the two terms in office are not readily apparent, there is one very important one—a commitment to service.

Thank you to all of the Jimmy's out there.

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