Of all the wishes granted in the past decade, Make-A-Wish’s metro and western New York chapter had never made one like Carter Beckhard-Suozzi’s come true.
As Carter underwent five months of chemotherapy last year, Make-A-Wish representatives asked him whom he would most like to meet, said chapter wish coordinator Kelly McCabe. The 10-year-old from Glen Cove took his time deciding, but eventually picked a fellow cancer survivor with a similar name: former President Jimmy Carter.
“When I sent the request to the national office, they said ‘Are you sure?’ ” McCabe said, laughing.
Even his family was a little surprised, said his mother, Jane Beckhard-Suozzi. But Carter was very sure, and on July 11, he got the chance to meet the former president at the Carter Center in Atlanta.
Carter was so excited he ran toward Jimmy Carter, 91, at first sight — before pausing to ask “Can I hug you?”
The former president replied yes, and the two Carters embraced.
“When I hugged him, it was a really warm hug,” Carter said. “Even if I had just got to see him, it was good enough for me.”
For Carter, the former president was an easy choice for a role model: His last name was Carter, he beat metastatic melanoma in 2015 and he had an interest in helping others, he said.
Carter took selfies and asked the president about his political and personal history: Why did you want to run for president and governor? How did you deal with the opposition during your race? What was your job on the peanut farm? The pair also discussed their battles with cancer.
The younger Carter was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma in May 2015, and underwent treatment for five months before being declared cancer-free, his mother said.
Carter, who served as co-president at his elementary school, was especially interested in the former president’s humanitarian efforts, including the Carter Center, which raises money for peacekeeping and disease-fighting efforts around the world.
Though Carter’s interest in the former president grew out of his research when choosing a wish, he’s no stranger to politics. His father is Ralph Suozzi, former mayor of the city of Glen Cove and current village administrator of the Village of Garden City. Ralph Suozzi’s cousin is Thomas Suozzi, the former Nassau County executive who is running for Congress.
McCabe said that in her years at Make-A-Wish, she’s seen a number of requests to meet President Barack Obama, but otherwise has received only one other request to meet a former president: A child asked to meet Bill Clinton a few years ago, she said.
Carter’s choice was unusual but also easy to make happen, she said.
“[President] Carter was on board immediately,” she said. “At the Carter Center, they were thrilled to make this happen.”
The former president said in a statement that he enjoyed meeting Carter.
“He is a fine young man, and we share much more than a name in common, especially our success in overcoming cancer,” he said. “I know Carter will grow up to do great things.”
As for the younger Carter, he said he knew he had made the right choice.
“That was the best wish ever,” he said as he left the center.