Rosalynn Carter, the wife of former president Jimmy Carter, died Sunday at the age of 96, according to The Carter Center. As a first lady, she worked tirelessly on behalf of mental health reform and professionalized the role of the president’s spouse.
“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” former president Jimmy Carter said in the 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.”
Her influence on his work as a president was so profound that in private conversations with his aides he would sometimes call her “co-president.”
The love story of Jimmy and Rosalynn resembled a fairy tale.
Rosalynn’s family lived next to Jimmy’s and she was a very good friend with his sister. She remembers that Jimmy’s sister had a photo of him on the wall and she fell in love with that photo showing young Jimmy wearing his uniform.
During a visit of his hometown from the Naval Academy, Jimmy laid eyes on Rosalynn and immediately knew she was the one. Speaking to People, the former president said: “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.””
“I didn’t know a single boy I thought I’d want to spend my life with until Jimmy Carter came calling,” Rosalynn explained.
They started dating but didn’t marry until she turned 18 because she made a promise to her dying father that she won’t marry before finishing school.
During the first years of marriage, the couple constantly moved places because Jimmy was often deployed at different locations. However, Rosalynn didn’t mind that. In fact, she loved being on the move with him and when he made the decision to give up his career in the Navy, she wasn’t glad. “I had been self-sufficient and independent from my mother and Jimmy’s mother,” she told The New York Times.
“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,” Jimmy 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.
During his presidency, Roselynn wasn’t just a First Lady, but she was her husband’s closest advisor and stood by his side supporting every decision he made as a head of the country.
She became interested in mental health during the time her husband ran for a governor in Georgia. “I used to come home and say to Jimmy, ‘Why are people telling me their problems?’ And he said, ‘Because you may be the only person they’ll ever see who may be close to someone who can help them,’” she explained.
When Ronald Reagan won the elections in 1980, Rosalynn seemed more distraught about it than her husband. It was likely because of the fact that she wasn’t as keen as Jimmy to be returning to Georgia, where the couple spent most of their lives.
“I was hesitant, not at all sure that I could be happy here after the dazzle of the White House and the years of stimulating political battles,” she wrote in her 1984 autobiography, First Lady from Plains. But “we slowly rediscovered the satisfaction of a life we had left long before.”
After leaving the White House, the Carters returned to live in their family house in Plains, Georgia. The house, which according to Zillow is valued at $209,996, was built in 1961, when the Carters welcomed their fourth child in their lives and needed a bigger place. The couple have always led a quite and a very simple life.
He never took any advantage of post-presidential popularity and was reported saying: “I don’t see anything wrong with it; I don’t blame other people for doing it. It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”
Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter shared a lot of interests together, like bird watching and helping the community through the organization Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes for people in need. They were heavily involved with other organizations that offered help.
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.
Following her passing, tributes and condolences came pouring in.
“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.
Among those who paid their tributes were Donald and Melania Trump.
In a joint statement, they referred to the former first lady as to 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.”
Rosalynn Carter was a truly special individual. May she rest in peace.
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Love and Peace