Jimmy Carter Oldest President Ever

Already the longest-serving former President, he'll pass George H.W. Bush as the longest-living tomorrow.

AJC (“At 94 years, 172 days the 39th president passes George H.W. Bush“):

When Jimmy Carter left office in 1981, the return home to Plains was not easy. His once flourishing farming business was more than $1 million dollars in debt, and he faced the prospect of selling the land that his family had been on for 150 years.

Then a friend pointed out that Carter, at the tender age of 56, could expect to live at least until 80-years-old.

“I had one disturbing reaction,” Carter wrote in his 1998 book, “The Virtues of Aging.” “What was I going to do with the next 25 years?

Let’s just say a lot — from establishing the Carter Center and being awarded the Nobel Prize to building Habitat for Humanity homes and writing more than two dozen books.

March 22, 2019, marks yet another milestone. While it is not his birthday, Carter becomes the oldest living former president in United States history.

At the age of 94 years and 172 days, he passes George H.W. Bush, who was 94 years, 171 days when he died last November.

“We at the Carter Center sure are rooting for him and are grateful for his long life of service that has benefited millions of the world’s poorest people,” the center said in a statement.

Daria Labinsky, an archivist with of the Carter Presidential Library, said nothing special is planned to mark the event at the library.

After the country’s first president, George Washington, lived to be 67, only a handful of others have lived into their 90s.

Already, Carter had set for presidential record for living the longest number of years out of office, at 38 plus. But then again, he started the job young. When he was elected in 1976, Carter was only 52-years-old, making him the 17th youngest elected president in history. The median age for accession to the presidency is 55 years and 3 months.

“What could possibly be good about growing old? The most obvious answer, of course, is to consider the alternative to aging,” Carter wrote in 1998. “But there are plenty of other good answers — many based on our personal experiences and observations.”

Carter, who was elected two weeks before my 11th birthday, is the first President whose election I distinctly remember and whose policies I paid any attention to. That I’m older now than he was then is remarkable. That he’s still alive, even more so.

We’ve certainly had some long-lived men in that office. Our second, John Adams, lived to be 90–which was phenomenal for someone born in 1735. His successors, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, made it into their 80s. And we’ve had a good string lately, with Richard Nixon (81), Gerald Ford (93), Carter (94 and counting), Ronald Reagan (93), and Bush 41 (94) all living to a ripe old age. But many have died in their 50s and 60s.

As noted many times here over the years, I wasn’t Carter’s biggest fan during his time in office and have occasionally been exasperated by his weighing in on contemporary politics. But his policies as President look better through the lens of hindsight than they did at the time. And, certainly, his character in office and in the many decades since have been unsurpassed.

FILED UNDER: Open Forum, The Presidency, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    My personal “hot take” is that Carter is the best ex-president we have ever had. I think runner-up goes to JQ Adams.

  2. Guarneri says:

    Good genes, and presumably clean living. Good for him.

  3. DrDaveT says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    My personal “hot take” is that Carter is the best ex-president we have ever had. I think runner-up goes to JQ Adams.

    An interesting thought, and persuasive.

    What was Taft’s record like as Chief Justice?

  4. Jay L Gischer says:

    @DrDaveT: I don’t know much about Taft as Chief Justice. Is this due to my ignorance, or a lackluster performance? I would guess the latter, but I don’t rightly know. I think Hoover was a very decent guy, if a disappointing president. He lived a fair while after leaving office as well, and probably did some interesting things with his time.

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    He wasn’t a great chief justice–stopped some States child labor reforms, stopped some States minimum wage measures, and reduced the federal governments ability to regulate the financial industry-Trump would jump at the chance to appoint him.

    Interesting tidbit: he never wanted to be President; being Justice was always his dream. But his wife wanted him to run for President, and a happy wife is a happy life.

  6. Kathy says:

    I’ve never cared much for the terms “former president” or “ex-president.” I’d prefer something like “president emeritus.” But then Dennison went and got elected and devalued the office anyway.

    BTW, Obama will be 58 this year. Since medical science keeps advancing, he stands a good chance of breaking Carter’s record.

  7. Franklin says:

    Christ, James, don’t jinx him!

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Franklin: Ha. AJC apparently jumped the gun on running the story, as they had to add a correction that he wouldn’t get the record until today. Looks like he made it.