Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has passed away, aged 96. President Jimmy Carter’s wife served as the First Lady from 1977 to 1981 and was known for her support of many worthy causes, including her passion for mental health research. Following her passing, tributes have poured in, including those from previous presidents such as Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Rosalynn Carter and Jimmy Carter were together until the end. The two shared an incredible love story that spanned more than seven decades.
Interestingly, the pair didn’t meet through politics, but rather in a rural town that had only 600 inhabitants. Here we take a look at her incredible life and the love story she shared with her long-time husband.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter pretty much knew each other from the day they were born.
Jimmy’s mother, Lillian Carter, was working as a nurse when, one day, her neighbor, Frances Smith, went in labor. Lillian decided to help deliver the baby – and Eleanor Rosalynn was born.
The following day, Rosalynn met Jimmy, then three years old, for the first time. It was the beginning of a lifelong journey they would embark on together, including a stint in the White House and much, much more.
Jimmy Carter & Rosalynn Carter – love story
Jimmy and Rosalynn grew up in the rural town of Plains, Georgia, home to only 600 people. She initially became the best friend of Jimmy’s sister, Ruth, but it wasn’t until they became teenagers that Jimmy and Rosalynn began to notice each other. Jimmy grew up and decided he wanted to embark on a career in the military. Before joining the United States Naval Academy, he attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
He served as a submariner in both the Atlantic and Pacific, rising to the rank of lieutenant. Carter received his B.S. degree in 1946 – and by that stage, a girl back home had grown fond of him.
By the time Jimmy left Plains for the United States Naval Academy, Rosalynn Carter had already fallen in love with him. In the 2020 book What Makes a Marriage Last, Rosalynn described how she saw a photograph of him that his sister, Ruth, had on her bedroom wall.
“I didn’t know a single boy I thought I’d want to spend my life with until Jimmy Carter came calling,” Rosalynn explained.
When Jimmy returned to Plains on a break from the Naval Academy, his then-girlfriend was away at a family reunion, meaning he was missing a date.
“I was cruising around with my sister, Ruth, and her boyfriend, just looking for a date, and I picked up Rosalynn in front of the Methodist church,” Jimmy recalled in What Makes a Marriage Last.
“I just felt compatible with her. She was beautiful and innocent, and there was a resonance. We rode in the rumble seat of a Ford pickup – Ruth and her boyfriend in the front – and I kissed her on that first date. I remember that vividly.”
“The moon was full in the sky, conversation came easy, and I was in love,” Rosalynn wrote in her memoir First Lady from Plains about their first date.
Jimmy Carter & Rosalynn Carter – marriage, children
Jimmy and Rosalynn began dating in 1945 – and never left each other’s side. The couple married on July 7, 1946, and despite Jimmy being deployed to different parts of the world, she followed him everywhere.
But the fact that the couple married so quickly wasn’t always on the cards. In fact, when Jimmy asked her to marry him for the first time in February, Rosalynn said no.
“From then until late May, she maintained, ‘No,’” Carter told Oprah in 2015. “I kept trying, and finally, she said okay.”
Jimmy and Rosalynn welcomed three children in the next six years. Jack was born in 1947, Chip in 1950, and Jefferey in 1952. Later, in 1967, they welcomed their fourth child and only daughter, Amy Lynn.
In 1953, Jimmy and Rosalynn decided to settle down. They left the Navy behind and moved back to Plains, Georgia, where they took over Jimmy’s peanut-growing farm after Jimmy’s father, Earl, died of cancer.
Meanwhile, Jimmy served in the Navy Reserve for many years, while also becoming active in the local Democratic Party. Among the topics he was most passionate about was the Civil Rights Movement and opposing racial segregation.
But while life had become a deal quieter for the couple, they also had difficulties. Like many couples, Jimmy and Rosalynn had trouble adjusting to marriage, which the former president spoke about in an interview with Playboy.
“We’ve come to understand each other much better. I was by far the dominant person in the marriage at the beginning, but not anymore,” he said.
“She’s just as strong, if not stronger than I am. She’s fully equal to me in every way in our relationship, in making business decisions, and she makes most of the decisions about family affairs. And I think it was a struggle for her to achieve this degree of independence and equality in our personal relationship. So, to summarize, years ago, we had a lot of quarrels—none serious, particularly—but now we don’t.”
Rosalynn Carter – work & projects as First Lady of the United States
Jimmy added: “We also share a religious faith, and the two or three times in our married life when we’ve had a serious crisis, I think that’s what sustained our marriage and helped us overcome our difficulty. Our children, too, have been a factor binding Rosalynn and me together.”
Jimmy had started his political career, and Rosalynn supported him all the way. In 1970, he became Georgia governor. Years before, no one would’ve imagined they would become such a popular couple. Especially not Jimmy himself.
“Before 1966, she and I were both very shy. It was almost a painful thing to approach a stranger or make a speech. It’s been a mutual change we’ve gone through, because we both felt it was worth while; so no matter what the outcome of the election, the relationship between Rosalynn and me will be very precious,” he told Playboy.
On January 20, 1977, Jimmy was inaugurated as the 39th President of the United States. Rosalynn was by his side and wore the same gown she had worn when he was sworn in as Georgia Governor years earlier.
From the beginning, it was clear that Rosalynn wouldn’t be a First Lady who just sat back and relaxed. She was hard-working and skilled, engaging in many special projects and attending briefings and meetings. She even made history by becoming the first presidential spouse to have her own office in the East Wing.
Besides being passionate about performing arts and inviting musicians from all over the world, Rosalynn Carter founded programs to aid mental health, the community, and older people. She was the Honorary Chairperson of the President’s Commission on Mental Health from 1977 to 1978 and became virtually as famous as her presidential husband.
“I don’t think I’m smarter than Jimmy Carter, but I love the political life,” Rosalynn said on the NPR show All Things Considered in 1984.
“I loved it, I like the intrigue. And it’s – and having one election – people who really support you in the next election will be your opponents. And the ones who are your opponents will be your supporters. I just like the whole – I like all of it. I like getting out and meeting people and talking with them and learning the country. It was just fascinating to me. I miss it.”
“The best thing I ever did was marrying Rosalynn”
Sadly for Jimmy and Rosalynn, they lost the 1980 reelection. The couple left the White House and returned to their childhood town and two-bedroom ranch house. At the time, their three sons had grown up – their daughter was a teenager – and the couple got more time to pursue many projects close to their hearts.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter did much humanitarian work through the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity. They built more than 4,000 homes worldwide, and in 2002, the former president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work supporting democracy and human rights.
Meanwhile, Rosalynn was devoted to de-stigmatizing mental health issues, campaigning and advocating for speaking out about it globally.
Rosalynn received many awards throughout her life, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In September, she and her husband received the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Lifetime Achievement Award.
The couple celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in 2021 – and their love never faded. Nothing has made the former president more proud than being at his wife’s side.
“The best thing I ever did was marrying Rosalynn,” Carter said in a 2015 interview at The Carter Center. “That’s the pinnacle of my life.”
In 2021, Rosalynn Carter said: “Everything with Jimmy Carter has been an adventure. We’ve been blessed to be able to travel the world, almost.”
Rosalynn Carter dead at 96
Earlier this year, Jimmy Carter entered home hospice care after declining medical help for several health issues. Just days ago, Rosalynn also entered hospice care at home after being diagnosed with dementia in May. On Sunday, November 19, the family announced that the former First Lady had passed away, aged 96.
She reportedly died peacefully with her family by her side.
“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” Jimmy 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.”
It didn’t take long after the announcement of Rosalynn’s passing was made public before tributes poured in from Washington.
“Above all, the deep love shared between Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter is the definition of partnership, and their humble leadership is the definition of patriotism,” President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden said in a statement. “She lived her life by her faith.”
“On behalf of a grateful nation, we send our love to President Carter, the entire Carter family, and the countless people across our nation and the world whose lives are better, fuller, and brighter because of the life and legacy of Rosalynn Carter,” the statement continued.
Donald Trump & Melania Trump pay tribute to Rosalynn Carter
Moreover, several former presidents and first ladies, among them Barack and Michelle Obama, George W and Laura Bush, and Bill and Hillary Clinton, paid tribute to the beloved Rosalynn, sharing their great memories and words of wisdom.
Former president Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump praised Rosalynn Carter for her work, calling her a “great humanitarian.”
“Melania and I join all Americans in mourning the loss of Rosalynn Carter,” Donald Trump wrote.
“She was a devoted First Lady, a great humanitarian, a champion for mental health, and a beloved wife to her husband for 77 years, President Carter.”
“Over a life spanning nearly a century, Rosalynn Carter earned the admiration and gratitude of our entire nation,” he added.
Melania Trump released her own statement, saying: “Rosalynn Carter leaves behind a meaningful legacy not only as First Lady but as a wife and mother. We will always remember her servant’s heart and devotion to her husband, family, and country. May she rest in peace.”
If you enjoyed this article about Rosalynn Carter, perhaps you’d be interested in reading her son Chip’s heartfelt tribute to the late former First Lady.
Rest in peace, Rosalynn Carter. Please share this article on Facebook to honor her legacy of humanitarian work.