Editor’s Note: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has entered home hospice care in Plains, Georgia “to spend his remaining time at home with his family,” it was announced last Saturday. At 98, President Carter is the longest-lived American president. In 2010, Carter came to UC Merced to receive the Alice and Clifford Spendlove Prize in Social Justice, Diplomacy and Tolerance. Prior to the award ceremony, event founder Sherrie Spendlove had the honor of spending time with the President. The following are her thoughts and reflections.
By SHERRIE SPENDLOVE
President Jimmy Carter is a statesman, but more importantly a kind man and a true gentle man.
In May 2010, he came to UC Merced to accept the fourth Alice and Clifford Spendlove Prize in Social Justice, Diplomacy and Tolerance. He was chosen by the Spendlove Prize Committee for his promotion of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and for all his work post presidency through The Carter Center for monitoring safe and fair elections around the globe. Not to mention his work not only in advancing such causes as Habitat for Humanity, but in actually wielding a hammer and nails to build such a community.
When Hans Bjornsson, as UC Merced dean of Social Sciences and Humanities and chair of the Spendlove Prize, talked to President Carter about coming to accept the Spendlove Prize, the President must have had echoes of his Nobel Peace Prize 2002 win hearing Hans’ dignified and competent slight Swedish accent.
My family and I spent one-on-one time with him in a private room prior to the ceremony at UC Merced. I spent my time engaging him on two important questions to me: the monitoring of fair elections in Third World countries and his plan for Palestinian-Israeli peace. He had just returned from an election monitoring mission in Sudan and so I wanted to know more of the details.
President Carter did his best to bring it to my level. Keep in mind that I have a B.A. M.A. and PhD, and two teaching credentials, and yet I struggled to grasp all the intricacies and complexities of his explanation. On both the explanation of his election monitoring and his peace plan for the Middle East, he was patient and went step by step, never talking down to me, but talking across to me, endeavoring for me to get each of his points.
I next commended him for his work on behalf of the children of the United States and the world. He had declared in Proclamation 4704 that December 1979 was Child Abuse Prevention Month. I knew of this first hand as ChildHelp USA and Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson, the two founders with over 100 years of joint experience had received the third Spendlove Prize in child abuse prevention and child protection, both nationally and internationally, and were in house that day to thank him.
I thanked him for his interest and advocacy, to which he replied that his wife Rosalynn was actually the architect and mainstay of that child advocacy work. I noted to myself at the time that this is a man who does not take ownership of someone else’s work NOT EVEN HIS WIFE’S.
I gave President Carter a gift to give to his wife, something that I usually give to all female recipients of the prize, or to the wife of a male recipient, a purse “hookup” designed by former Merced local, Fafa Kamangar, donor of the UC Merced Kamangar Family Chair in Biological Sciences (formerly the Nutrition and Preventative Medicine Chair.)
This “hookup” is a sleek, elegant and functional device used to hang a purse, briefcase or other personal item. Because of its beauty and functionality, and that it is in the shape of a heart when not in use, I found it to be the perfect gift for a Spendlove Prize recipient.
President Carter’s Secret Service detail asked that I open the box for the President. When he saw it, President Carter expressed his delight that Rosalynn (which he pronounced Rose-Lynn) would love it.
Indeed, a few weeks later, I got a personal hand-written note from Mrs. Carter thanking me for the lovely gift, saying also that “Jimmy” had really enjoyed his time with us and she would like to accept my invitation to come back and visit us again. I noted how gracious both President and Mrs. Carter were.
After that, the rest of my Spendlove family interacted with the President: my Dad, Clifford Spendlove, brother Steve Spendlove, and my sons, Micah Gallo and Peter Gallo. My mother, Alice Spendlove, was in a hospital bed and watched the ceremony on the computer later as did my daughter, Tiffanie Gallo, who was unable to get the day off from her LA law firm to attend.
My dad was especially in seventh heaven talking with the President. I remember him telling President Carter how much he and my mother enjoyed their visit to Carter’s Presidential library in Atlanta and that the President was pleased he had liked it. They were contemporaries in age and alike in outlook and demeanor, both relaxed and humorous. My dad was a social worker who ended up as Merced County Human Resources deputy director. He had grown up in the Depression era, in East LA, in one of the most disadvantaged areas, as one of the only white kids in his neighborhood. His takeaway from this time was that good people are everywhere, and don’t belong to just a particular race, ethnicity, religion or economic group. He and my mother, a staff worker at Merced High School who worked directly with the students, were in the trenches, so to speak, during Carter’s time as president and revered his promotion of the common man and woman.
We then had photos with my family, and President Carter was gracious throughout. We sent them to him later and he sent them back, signed with good wishes. When it became time to go to the ceremony, President Carter and I moved together to the door we would enter where the public was gathered. Just before the door I said, “You first Mr. President.” I had been briefed on the protocol that the President of the United States always enters a room first. He smiled, half entered the room, then turned back to me, and waited for me to enter before he advanced any further into the room. I was struck by this upending of protocol, something he was not required to do, something I never expected and probably something no one else noticed, but it confirmed in my mind that Jimmy Carter is a true gentleman. We proceeded into a packed room bursting with excitement, camera lights flashing, people standing everywhere.
Inside the room after my introduction of President Carter and his subsequent remarks, he had to leave for a few minutes for a prior commitment but came back a few minutes later and conversed freely with those who had stayed.
I remember sweet Ida Johnson beaming as she spoke with him, President Carter smiling widely, obviously also enjoying himself enormously. The Merced County DA Larry Morris brought his mother, who declared herself a big President Carter fan. Dr. Maciej Ossowski, a native of Poland, thanked the president for facilitating his ability to become a U.S. citizen. John Tateishi, the leader of the Japanese American WWII Internment Camp Redress Movement and the 2nd Spendlove Prize recipient, came from Washington DC especially to thank President Carter personally for having initiated the official government apology and reparations for this travesty of justice.
Many others were there that day for their own reasons to thank this kind, humble, generous, gracious, authentic, and well-intentioned President.