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Carter, longest living president, marks 98th birthday in Georgia hometown

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at the Peanut Festival on Sept. 24 in Plains, Ga. (Jill Stuckey)

Former president Jimmy Carter celebrated his 98th birthday Saturday by seeing family members, taking calls and greeting well-wishers who came for a parade in Plains, Ga., the small town where he began his improbable campaign for the nation’s highest office nearly half a century ago.

“Friends are calling, and family are around,” Jill Stuckey, the superintendent of the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park and a family friend, said after visiting the former president Saturday morning. “He is remarkable.”

Later in the day, the hometown hosted a parade, which the former president viewed from a wheelchair, according to a tweet from the Carter Center.

Carter, who left the White House in 1981 after one term, has lived longer than any other U.S. president.

He and his wife, Rosalynn, 95, greeted well-wishers in public last weekend during the annual Peanut Festival in Plains. A Secret Service agent drove the Carters around in a red convertible. The Carter family still owns farmland where peanut grows.

“It was a gorgeous day. Everything came together,” said Stuckey, describing the event with the Carters’ children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren walking behind the car. “Some people’s jaws dropped when they saw them. People were clapping and some had tears.”

Friends said that Carter is following the news about Hurricane Ian and praying for those who are suffering because of the storm. For decades, the Carters worked with Habitat for Humanity, which builds affordable housing and helped rebuild destroyed homes after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Post Podcast: Jimmy Carter's faith

Carter’s post-presidency stands apart for how simply he continues to live in his hometown of fewer than 800 people.

After leaving Washington, he spent decades promoting human rights and democracy around the world, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. The Nobel committee cited “his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

Until recently, he taught Sunday school in his local church. Carter has overcome serious health problems, including in 2015 when he was diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to his liver and brain. After treatment, doctors said he defied the odds and announced later that year that he was cancer-free.

To mark his birthday, thousands of people posted personal messages to an online “Happy Birthday, President Carter!” site set up by the Carter Center.

“What strikes me is the depth of feeling people have for him,” said Matthew Degalan, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based Carter Center. “People look at him as a person of values and principles, and they miss that in politics today.”

Many admirers note that Carter was a visionary for putting solar panels on the White House, even as some criticized him for it at the time.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who served on a submarine, Carter was expected to spend part of his birthday watching the Navy-Air Force football game and maybe his favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, according to friends.

Last year, the Carters celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. The two are rarely apart, and they were in their living room, together, speaking with family and friends on his birthday.

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