Sweat EquityOct. 13, 2003
I always figured that if I was to interview a Nobel Peace Prize winner or a former U.S. president, I'd at least smell good.It didn't happen.
On a Tuesday afternoon in LaGrange, Ga., I interviewed someone who is both a Nobel winner and a former president. He was in town to participate in his namesake annual Habitat for Humanity Jimmy Carter Work Project.
After following him around for hours in the afternoon, I went to the interview room covered in red clay and coated in sweat.
Weeks before, former President Jimmy Carter agreed to a private interview with the LaGrange Daily News. My editor told me then that I was to do the interview. I think she thought she was giving me a compliment and an honor.
What she really gave me was a stomachache.
Throughout a 20-year career, I've interviewed a lot of fascinating people who have done remarkable things. A few were famous, but most were just ordinary people with extraordinary spirits.
The former president seemed to be a little of both. This is a man who grabs a hammer and goes to work on a simple three-bedroom house just like all the regular people.
But he's not regular people -- he's someone who really has done something for world peace. And I had no idea what to ask him. Is there really a question no one's ever asked before?
For a week before the interview, I polled everyone I met -- at church, at Wal-Mart, on the ball field: What would you ask Jimmy Carter if you had the chance?
I wanted clever. I wanted profound. After writing and rewriting, I finally came up with a list of six questions that, while maybe not profound, seemed fitting to me.
So at 3:30 on that hot Tuesday afternoon, I was escorted to the almost-finished, bright yellow bedroom in one of the homes-to-be at the Habitat work site. I sat my mud-spattered self on one of three folding chairs and tried to look intelligent.
Carter came straight from his afternoon of hanging yellow siding on the front porch of House No. 17. I relaxed a little. He was as sweaty as I.
With a cold Powerade in his hand, he got right to the point: "Do you have questions?"
I did, but I dropped them on the ground. The ceiling fan blew them under my chair.
The Nobel Prize winner drank some more Powerade.
I finally asked my first question. He started talking, and the 10-minute interview stretched to 20 minutes. It was pretty easy after that first question.
Afterward, I headed out to write my story full of clever questions and answers.
However, I was stopped by several people who knew about the interview. After talking to them, I realized all my worrying had been unnecessary. It really didn't matter what I had asked Carter.
No one cared about his answers; they just wanted to know, "What's he like?"
So, here's the real scoop. He's friendly, he's intense and, at times, he's humorous. But most of all, he's passionate about what he believes in: dignity and respect for every human being, including the ones who now have new Habitat homes.
Brown, BS '81, is a reporter for the LaGrange Daily News and the Georgia Baptist Christian Index. She won Associated Press Story of the Year the past two years and has been a three-time grand prize-winner in the Baptist Communicators Association. She and husband, Greg, have three daughters.