• Rosalynn Carter, Arthur Milnes, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and RCGS CEO John Geiger

    John Geiger, CEO of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (right) presented the Lawrence J. Burpee medal to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in Georgia February 19. With them, from left, are Rosalynn Carter and Arthur Milnes. (Photo: Bobby Ellis/Canadian Geographic)

Former United States President Jimmy Carter has been awarded the Lawrence J. Burpee medal, one of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society's highest honours, in recognition of his role in expanding the U.S. national parks system and ongoing work with Habitat for Humanity. 

John Geiger, CEO of the RCGS, presented the former President with the medal in a small ceremony at Carter's church in Plains, Georgia, on February 19. 

"It's incredibly exciting for the RCGS to have this global leader, who has had a lifelong connection to Canada, as a Fellow of the Society," says Geiger. "He really represents the best of America, in many respects." 

Carter served as the 39th President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. One of his signature achievements was the passing into law in 1980 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which granted varying degrees of protection to more than 63 million hectares of land, and created 17 million hectares of new national parkland, including America's largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias. Wrangell-St. Elias borders Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve, as well as Canada's Kluane National Park and Reserve and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia; together, the four parks protect a vast complex of high mountain peaks, wild rivers and the world's largest non-polar icefield, and share a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. 

Since 1984, Carter and his wife Rosalynn have been actively involved with Habitat for Humanity, raising funds and participating in builds in 14 different countries. This summer, the Carters will take part in builds in Edmonton and Winnipeg as part of a nationwide Habitat Canada initiative to build 150 homes in honour of Canada's 150th birthday.

The Burpee medal is named for Lawrence Johnstone Burpee, a former Canadian Secretary of the International Joint Commission and the founding editor of the Canadian Geographical Journal, and recognizes outstanding achievements that help the RCGS fulfill its mandate of making Canada better known to Canadians and the world.