Skip to content

Looking back at former President Jimmy Carter’s visits to Tempe bookstore

Commander in Chief, humanitarian, peanut farmer — former President Jimmy Carter has worn a lot of hats in his 98 years.It was recently announced that he was beginning hospice care, and as we take a look back at his life and legacy, there is another title he held that you may not have thought of."I Jimmy Carter, do solemnly swear."It was those six words that kicked off a U.S. presidency, but it would be other words one Valley woman says she'll remember the most from President Carter, our nation's 39th president."He's really a wonderful writer," explains Gayle Shanks, the co-owner of Changing Hands, a bookstore and Valley staple for nearly half a century. "They were also books anyone could pick up and read."Dozens of books have been written by President Carter himself, spanning his life, his passions, and his heart."He has books he has written about his faith. He has several memoirs he wrote about different phases of his life. He wrote about his relationship with his wife. He wrote a children's book with his daughter, Amy. He went the whole breadth of what we think about as good books that appeal to common people."President Carter visited Changing Hands in Tempe three times in his life, most recently in 2015."Each time he came, we had a huge audience for him. We had close to 3,000 people snaking around the door and in this shopping center."ABC15's Nick Ciletti was there on that summer day in 2015 and captured video of the long lines and crowds, all waiting to catch of glimpse of the former Commander in Chief."He is the kindest, gentlest man and he wasn't daunted by seeing all those people."In fact, Gayle Shanks tells ABC15 that President Carter had to leave before visiting with each person in line, so he came up with the idea to walk through the line and greet everyone on his way out."I said, 'the Secret Service is never going to let you do this' and he said, 'it's my life,' and he walked up to his Secret Service and said, 'You can walk with me but I am walking through the line,' and he walked through the store and walked around the complex, went out to his limo, and left."Carter was our country's president from 1977-1981, during a particularly tumultuous time in American history -- long gas lines, soaring inflation, and the Iran hostage crisis. President Carter would lose his bid for re-election in 1980."I was so taken with his sense of responsibility to his fellow human beings and it's that kind of work he will be remembered for," says Gayle, stating that so much of President Carter's work transcends politics and the office he occupied.At 98, Mr. Carter is the oldest living former President ever. In 2002, he won the Nobel Peace Prize and has partnered with Habitat for Humanity for the past four decades. Until recently, he would teach Sunday school at his church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.