Jimmy Carter is not only America’s oldest living former president. Furthermore, no other incumbent was married as long as the ninety-nine-year-old. He and his wife Rosalynn have spent 77 years of marriage together. The former first lady died on Sunday at the age of 96. She died in her hometown of Plains, Georgia.
When the former president was asked a few years ago what he was most proud of in his life, he didn’t hesitate to answer: marrying Rosalynn, he replied. On Sunday, he said through his foundation: “Rosalynn has been my equal partner in everything I have ever accomplished. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew that someone loved and supported me.” Her health had recently deteriorated. In the spring it became known that she was suffering from dementia. It was only on Friday that the Carter Foundation announced that Rosalynn was receiving palliative care at home. Her husband has also been receiving palliative care at home since mid-February.
The story of the great love between Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter almost didn’t exist. The cadet at the Naval Academy in Annapolis was on home leave in 1945. On a Sunday he actually wanted to go on a date with another woman. But she had family obligations. So he spoke to Rosalynn, a friend of his younger sister Ruth, after going to church. In the evening they both went to the cinema. The next morning he told his mother he was going to marry Rosalynn. Less than a year passed before the application was submitted. Rosalynn initially said no – she wanted to finish college first. But Jimmy was persistent. They married in 1946. The couple had four children and eleven grandchildren.
Commitment to the mentally ill
Rosalynn Smith was born in Plains in 1927. Like her future husband, she came from humble beginnings. Her father, an auto mechanic, died of cancer when she was 13. Her mother supported the family as a seamstress. She graduated second in her high school class. She then attended college. The couple worked for a time on Jimmy’s father’s peanut farm. Then her husband got involved in politics. In the early 1960s, Jimmy was elected to the Georgia Senate. In 1970, Rosalynn supported her husband’s first major election campaign: he successfully ran for governor. As first lady in Georgia, she began to advocate for the mentally ill. Their efforts helped to free the spectrum of illness from its stigma.
When the Democrat later moved into national politics, he could again rely on his wife’s support. “Campaigning was fun. I got to travel and see the whole country,” she said. In the White House, which the couple moved into in 1977, she continued to advocate for the mentally ill, but was also committed to women’s rights. After leaving the White House, she and her husband founded the Carter Center in 1982, which promotes democracy and human rights worldwide. In 1999, Bill Clinton awarded Rosalynn the Medal of Freedom. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill praised her on Sunday as a woman who “walked her own path” while inspiring a nation and the world.
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