Former President Jimmy Carter celebrates 97th birthday

ATLANTA — Ex-President Jimmy Carter, the oldest former U.S. chief executive ever, will quietly mark his 97th birthday at home in southwest Georgia on Friday, an aide said.

Slowed by age in recent years and keeping a low profile during the coronavirus pandemic, Carter didn’t plan on any public appearances, said press secretary Deanna Congelio at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

But he did enjoy a private parade thrown by family and friends in his hometown of Plains.

Channel 2′s Richard Elliot was in Plains, where people know the former president simply as Mr. Jimmy. Carter’s relationship with his small town is as strong as it has ever been.

Some businesses closed early to celebrate.

The last time Carter made a public appearance was in July, when he celebrated his 75th wedding anniversary with Rosalyn Carter.

On Friday, he was spotted smiling in his wheelchair along the parade route, side-by-side with his wife as usual.

Jan Williams lives in Plains and has known Carter since she was five years old. She said everyone in town is very protective of him.

“You know, it doesn’t matter who you voted for,” Williams said. “You have to admire the man and his wife and all that they’ve done for the world.”

Elliot also talked to Carter’s sister-in-law, Sybil Carter, who was married to his brother Billy.

“He’s everybody’s next door neighbor in Plains, and like I said, he loves this town,” Sybil Carter said. “He was brought up here and his parents lived on a farm. He is a farmer. You know, what else would he be?”

Workers at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in tiny Plains recorded greetings for the former president, and members of the public can sign an online birthday card at www.cartercenter.org.

Dozens sent early birthday greetings, and many didn’t even mention Carter’s Democratic presidency from 1977-81. Instead, they said they were inspired by Carter’s post-presidential life that has included volunteer work, authorship of multiple books, advocacy for justice and years of teaching Sunday school.

“We love you for your honesty, consistency and for being so articulate,” said one message. Many shared photos of themselves with Carter and his wife Rosalynn, who celebrated 75 years of marriage in July.

The former president was diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to his liver and brain in 2015 but underwent treatment and announced he was cancer-free four months later. He has had a string of falls, including one that left him with a broken pelvis in October 2019, and has used a walker when in public most recently.

RELATED STORIES:

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visited the Carters at their home in April. “We sat and talked about the old days,” Biden said of his predecessor.

A quiet birthday could be all the more somber as the family prepares for the funeral of Carter’s daughter-in-law Annette Davis Carter, the longtime wife of Jeff Carter, in Plains on Saturday. She died earlier this month at the age of 68.

Annette Carter’s service will be held at Maranatha Baptist Church, which the ex-president helped found and where the pastor regularly asks members to pray for the Carters.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report