Rosalynn Carter, former first lady, passed away on Sunday at the age of 96, the Carter Center said. According to the Carter Center, she passed away “peacefully, with family by her side” at 2:10 p.m. ET on Sunday, November 19, 2018 in her Plains, Georgia home.
“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” former President Jimmy Carter said in a statement. “She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”
The former first lady was diagnosed with dementia in May, according to her family, but she remained at home with her husband in Plains, Georgia. Last week, we heard that she had begun receiving hospice care at home. President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden paid tribute to her for “inspiring a nation and the world.” saying in a statement:
“Throughout her incredible life as First Lady of Georgia and the First Lady of the United States, Rosalynn did so much to address many of society’s greatest needs. She was a champion for equal rights and opportunities for women and girls; an advocate for mental health and wellness for every person; and a supporter of the often unseen and uncompensated caregivers of our children, aging loved ones, and people with disabilities.”
Rosalynn Carter maintained an active part in the White House and advocated for causes including mental health research as a trusted adviser and close confidante to her husband. She was a country girl through and through, but she knew from an early age the transformative power of political office.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were the first first couple in history to have a partnership like no other. The Carters had a special bond, making them unique among first families. Rosalynn Carter was willing to speak her views to her husband, and he valued her advise. For the first time ever, she was criticized for attending Cabinet sessions.
“Jimmy Carter has always taught me you do the best you can and you don’t worry about the criticism,” she told CBS News’ Bob Schieffer in October 1980.
“It does not matter what you do. It does not matter. I could stay here and pour tea and be a hostess and do nothing else and I would be criticized, or I could have one project — it doesn’t matter what I do, it doesn’t matter what he does — we’re going to be criticized. You just have to have confidence.”
Born in Plains on August 18, 1927, the oldest of four children, Rosalynn Smith started dating Jimmy Carter when she was 18. “The first time I had a date with him I came home and mother said, ‘You know I like Jimmy, he has the nicest smile,'” she once told CBS News’ Ed Rabel. “So he’s had a nice smile a long time.”
The couple tied the knot in 1945. Since Jimmy Carter served in the Navy, the family was able to travel extensively. They have three sons, all of whom were born in different countries. Rosalynn Carter cherished her newfound freedom and had no desire to return to her rural upbringing.
“I think I was away from home and very independent and had three little babies, and I thought that if I came home I would have my mother and Jimmy’s mother to tell me what to do,” Rabel was told. The family moved back to Plains in 1953 after Jimmy Carter’s father passed away so that he could take over the family peanut business.
Nonetheless, the pair had higher ambitions, and in 1970, Jimmy Carter was elected governor of Georgia. Both with and without him, Rosalynn Carter helped promote his candidacy. This relationship persisted throughout the 1976 presidential campaign, and she eventually became his ears and eyes in remote areas. Every week, they’d get together in Plains to talk shop.
By this time, they had a fourth child, Amy, and she frequently accompanied them on the campaign route. “Every time we came home, we liked to go out to the farm and walk in the fields, and it gave us two or three hours just to talk about, to visit,” Rosalynn Carter disclosed to CBS News. We discussed his and my observations of the campaign thus far, as well as our hopes and fears for its future.
I could fill him in on my experiences in various states and the impressions I’ve formed of them. After becoming first lady, she continued to serve as a sounding board for her husband and utilized her position to advocate for her long-standing cause of increasing society’s acceptance and understanding of people with mental illness. She was the commission’s honorary chairperson under the presidency.
She also kept up her extensive first lady travel schedule, including an extraordinary trip to Latin America in which she represented her husband’s administration as an envoy. “I’m going to convey all this information I have to Jimmy. As a matter of fact, I look forward to consulting with him on a regular basis,” she said to laughter in 1977.
The Carters left Washington in 1980 and dove headfirst into their next chapter. They established the Carter Center in Atlanta, which promotes peace and conflict resolution. They did anything from travel the world in search of peace to helping the underprivileged in the United States by building Habitat for Humanity homes.
In 1999, the Carters received the Medal of Freedom from President Clinton. More than three-quarters of a century passed during the couple’s tight partnership, making their marriage the longest in presidential history. On July 7, 2023, they commemorated 77 years of marriage.
On July 12, 2011, at the funeral of her friend and fellow first lady, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter spoke. She described Ford in terms that could just as easily apply to herself: “Isn’t this the most appropriate description of Betty? Someone who was willing to do things a bit differently than they had been done before? Someone who had the courage and grace to fight fear, stigma and prejudice wherever she encountered it.”
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