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Though approaching his 90th year, the greatest American ex-president, Jimmy Carter, shows no sign of slowing down. Recently, he has visited Sweden, where my wife Birgit and I reside for several months each year, bringing a message of peace and responsible behavior for the nation of Iran, which has had no regular diplomatic relations with the United States for decades. Carter also expressed grave concern over the emergence of a new radical group seeking to overthrow or dominate the governments of Iraq and Syria, linking them into one repressive regime.
I first met Jimmy Carter while heading up the Jewish Community Council of Greater New London during the 1970s. Upon securing the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in 1976, he held a meeting for such agency heads in Boston, which I attended. Being very impressed with Carter and his message of hope for America and the world, I volunteered in his successful presidential campaign, and was invited to his Inauguration in Washington in January 1977.
In his inaugural speech, Jimmy Carter adopted the theme that government should be competent and compassionate, and he succeeded in helping to create 8 million new jobs, reducing the federal budget deficit, establishing a national energy policy and, in foreign affairs, bringing together the leaders of Israel and Egypt to sign the 1978 Camp David Accords, the first (and only) real Mideast peace agreement.
Even though he was defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980 (largely due to over 50 American diplomats and other staff having been taken hostage by Iranian radicals and not released until after the election), Carter did not withdraw from public life. In recent decades, he has helped supervise elections all over the developing world, has advised most of his successors in the American presidency, and has spoken out forcefully for peace and reconciliation.
In 2002, Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He has founded the Carter Center, based in Atlanta, Georgia to help achieve improved living conditions for the needy, not only in a host of nations around the world, but in the United States itself.
Over the years, Jimmy Carter and I have stayed in touch; during my service as an agency head and college professor in eastern Connecticut, I formally proposed to the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton - where I was teaching business and economics courses - that a new Trident submarine be named in honor of this former naval officer and graduate of the Naval Academy in Annapolis. I was told that my proposal had been referred to the Secretary of the Navy.
Jimmy Carter served with distinction in the U.S. Navy during World War II, trained as an engineer. Later, he specialized in nuclear power, so the naming of a nuclear submarine after him is fitting. It took decades, but on Feb. 19, 2005 the third and last Seawolf nuclear submarine, the USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23), was commissioned, with the motto Semper Optima - Always the Best.
The same might well be said about Jimmy Carter himself.
Eugene F. Elander is a former New London resident and past executive director of the Jewish Federal of Eastern Connecticut. He now splits his time between homes in Sweden and Georgia.