Rosalynn Carter, the wife of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for 77 years, died on Sunday at the age of 96 with her family by her side.
In May 2023, her family revealed that Carter had been suffering from mental health challenges. The Carter Center announced that she passed away at their longtime home in Plains, Ga., the small town where both were born. Jimmy Carter, who turned 99 on October 1, is at home under hospice care. He is the longest-lived president in the nation’s history.
Rosalynn Carter served as the first lady from 1977 to 1981 and, after leaving the White House, continued to advocate for the importance of mental health, healthcare, and family care providers for an extended period.
She married Jimmy Carter on July 7, 1946. In 2019, surpassing George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, they became the longest-married first couple in American history, with their marriage lasting 73 years.
According to the Associated Press, Rosalynn Carter was born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith on August 18, 1927, in the Smith family home, to Lillian, a nurse, and James Earl Smith, a businessman. A few days later, Lillian brought her two-year-old son to meet the newborn.
Nearly a century later, the couple is still together.
The 39th president revealed during a joint interview in 2021, ahead of the 75th anniversary of their marriage, “It’s a full partnership.”
This official partnership began after Rosalynn was 18 years old and Jimmy was 20 when they got married. While Jimmy was serving as a naval officer and Rosalynn worked as a military wife, the couple initially moved away from their hometown. However, they returned after the death of Jimmy’s father, James Earl Carter Sr., in 1953.
Jimmy Carter resigned from the U.S. Navy, and with Rosalynn, he managed his father’s agricultural supply business, which included peanut farming.
Rosalynn Carter, during an interview with AP in 2021, said, “When we were working in the agricultural supply business, we developed a partnership, and it continued even when Jimmy entered politics.” She added, “He sought my advice on things.”
Rosalynn Carter played a significant role in promoting her husband, first during his successful election as the governor of Georgia and then during the 1976 presidential campaign, which Carter won by a substantial margin. Rosalynn Carter established her own East Wing office and worked on major legislation, establishing standards for women working in law offices.
After losing the re-election in 1980, the Carters opened The Carter Center in Atlanta, a human rights organization that aims to advance global peace and health. Rosalynn focused on raising awareness about mental health and traveled extensively with her husband to combat the stigma associated with it. She also inspired the creation of a large-scale office within the Department of Health and Human Services in multiple U.S. administrations, dedicated to advocating for relationships caring for relatives, especially in terms of mental health.
Jennifer Olsen, who leads the Rosalynn Carter Institute, recently said, “Her incredible ability is to see a problem through the lens of policy change and think about the person next door or the person on the street who is struggling.”
Despite losing the re-election in 1980, the Carters’ commitment to public service and humanitarian efforts continued to make a lasting impact.
“Mrs. Carter often said that there are only four kinds of people in this world: those who are caregivers; those who are currently being cared for, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers,” her family wrote in a statement when they announced her diagnosis of mental health challenges in May. “We are experiencing the joys and challenges of this journey.”
The Carters have four children and 22 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Their son Chip Carter said in a statement, “Beyond being a dear mother and an extraordinary first lady, my mother was a great humanitarian in her own right.” “Her life of service and compassion was an example for all Americans. Her legacy will be felt not only by our family but by the many people who will remember her for the better mental health care and resources available today.”
Rosalynn Carter celebrated her 96th birthday in August with fewer than 1,000 residents in the city of Plains, her home, alongside her husband and family. She marked the occasion by releasing butterflies in the Carters’ garden and enjoying peanut butter ice cream, highlighting their experiences as Georgia peanut farmers.
Rosalynn Carter and Jimmy Carter were the second-longest-married couple in American history, after Bess Truman, the wife of President Harry S. Truman, who was 97 at the time of her death in 1982.