Tears come easily to Twin Cities attorney Lori Peterson since hearing that her dear friend’s cancer spread, but the good news is that she’s heard from former President Jimmy Carter.

“I had talked to one of the family members right before this came out. He had just had surgery and he had been restless. I just felt like something wasn’t right,” she said.

She sent Carter an e-mail. He’s not an avid e-mailer. “He likes to hand-write notes, which I love, I treasure,” said Peterson. She didn’t expect to hear from the 39th president for a while, “but a letter came from him. It is handwritten, like many of the letters he sends to me. In it, among other things, he says he is ‘at ease,’ ‘grateful’ for my friendship and that he loves me. He just started my tears rolling again. I wish I was half as strong as he is. An amazing man. I cannot imagine a world without him in it.”

Peterson was a teenager when their friendship began. “I first saw Jimmy on TV campaigning when I was 12,” said Peterson “I was so impressed with him, his honesty, his integrity; I started campaigning for him. I did everything from cold calling from the local DFL headquarters to going door-to-door. I eventually was co-chair of my county DFL Party and on the DFL state central committee by the age of 17. I loved his positions on the issues, but I also loved the person. I saw him as a very hardworking person and I really wanted to meet him someday. So as I read books and articles about him, I would send letters to people mentioned who knew him, from the authors of the books themselves, to neighbors, relatives, etc.

“I got my first letter from him, I believe this was 1980. His best friend John Pope shared one of my letters with Jimmy. Jimmy read my letter and said, Tell her to come down. So I got invited to Plains, Georgia, and met Jimmy and Rosalynn at their home. The first in-person visit was just about a month after he left the White House. I was told they were not seeing many people at that time.”

Peterson has been to Plains many times since. “Precious memories [that are bringing] loads of tears. The impending loss is just gut wrenching. I try to get myself thinking, ‘He’s using cutting-edge medicine, he could beat this. If anyone can, he can.’ ”

In a 2010 visit to Plains, Peterson recalled how she had just driven by the security checkpoints and “Jimmy was already out the door of their house, coming down the sidewalk, and with that sweet smile said, We’ve been waiting a long time for you to get here. Rosalynn came out right after him. We went inside after some hugs, and sat in the living room talking for awhile. He gets bored easily, so he got up and asked if I wanted to see his new exercise equipment. We went out back and he pulled two Trikkes out of the garage. He and Rosalynn took these three-wheeled bikes over to their tennis court and rode around on them. Many people half their age would have fallen off these things, but they went zooming around in their late 80s. He’s just a hoot, an incredible guy; and she is a wonderful woman.”

Once when the Carters had a layover in Minnesota, Rosalynn Carter had a request. “With her lovely Southern accent she asked, Do you think you would have time to come see us? It’s early. We met for a while in a private area in the airport and then Jimmy wanted to get a book for the next part of the flight. We were walking through the airport, with Secret Service, and ran into Collin Peterson and also Jim Oberstar. It was really funny, because first one congressman and then the other walked up and Jimmy said, This is my friend Lori, and each congressman interrupted to say, I know Lori, she has worked for me.

“Jimmy wanted to get a book for the flight, as you likely know, he’s a voracious reader and goes through books on every flight, so Rosalynn and I took off for the bookstore. I yelled over my shoulder, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find a good book for you.’ Jimmy yelled back, I’m picking my OWN book!”

Before the cancer diagnosis, Peterson had already bought a plane ticket to visit the Carters in Plains in November.

“Just heard from Jimmy’s office telling me that, as of now, my visit to his house in late November is still on,” Peterson said Wednesday. “But I’m ready for whatever they tell me. If they need me to come earlier, I’m there.”


C.J. can be reached at cj@startribune.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Jason Show.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count. Attachments are not opened.