Happy B-day Jimmy Carter; He Smiled Into Office

Today is the birthday of a man who won the White House, in part, on the power of a radiant smile.  As much as anyone who ever lived, former President Jimmy Carter stands as an example of the power of personal connection.

Carter was famous for his inability to connect well on television.  Ronald Reagan did the TV thing far better. But Carter won the presidency in large measure because when you met him you couldn’t help but like the guy.

I’ve met Jimmy Carter twice and both times he blew me away with his personal charisma.

When I was a cub reporter with The Times in Gainesville Ga. I was assigned to cover a health conference at Emory University that was being led by Carter in 1984. At the conference, I had the chance to interview the former President in a small interview room.

The interview went fine. But what was most interesting to me was what happened after the interview was over. Carter started asking me questions!  He wanted to know where I had been to college and where I was from.  

And as I spoke, he smiled at me and looked me in the eye. He seemed truly interested in everything I had to say. For the short time I was with him, his eyes and that smile made me feel like everything I said was incredibly important to him.  He seemed totally focused on me.

I’ve met many people who have had similar encounters with Carter. Many have reported similar experiences.

The second time I met Carter was about two years ago on an airplane. I was returning to Atlanta from New York. As I boarded the plane, there was Jimmy seated in first class beside his wife Rosalynn.

When everyone finished boarding, Carter stood and made his way to the back of the plane, stopping to greet everyone on the flight. 

“Hi,” he said, extending his hand to everyone as he worked from row to row. “How are you. It’s nice to be traveling with you.” And as he said it, he looked you right in the eye and smiled. You couldn’t help but smile back.  The atmosphere in the plane was buzzing with excitement. 

The man has incredible personal charisma. And it’s largely because of his smile.

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