Rosalynn Carter, former first lady and a leading figure in global humanitarian efforts alongside her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, has died at the age of 96.
The Carter Center announced her passing, stating that she died peacefully at her rural home in Plains, Georgia, at 2:10 p.m. on Sunday. Mrs. Carter had been living with dementia and experienced a decline in health over several months.
Former President Jimmy Carter expressed the profound impact Rosalynn had on his life, stating, “Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished. 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.”
Current First Lady, Jill Biden, shared the news at an event, highlighting Rosalynn Carter’s significant contributions to mental health, caregiving, and women’s rights. Leaders from around the world offered condolences, recognizing the Carters’ enduring partnership and Rosalynn’s activism.
The Carters, married for over 77 years, were known for their unique partnership, with Rosalynn often considered a co-president due to her active involvement in political matters. She participated in Cabinet meetings, addressed Congress, and advocated for mental health and the elderly throughout her life.
Eleanor Rosalynn Smith Carter, born on August 18, 1927, in Plains, Georgia, was the eldest of four children. Growing up in a modest household, she shouldered responsibilities for her siblings after her father’s early death. Rosalynn combined academic excellence, graduating as valedictorian from high school, with part-time work in a beauty parlor to contribute to the family income.
Rosalynn’s life took a transformative turn when she married Jimmy Carter on July 7, 1946, shortly after his graduation from the Naval Academy and her completion of studies at Georgia Southwestern College. The couple had four children: John William (Jack), James Earl III (Chip), Donnel Jeffery (Jeff), and Amy.
While Jimmy pursued his naval career, Rosalynn gained a taste of the world and experienced Navy life. Later, as they returned to Plains to manage the family farm, Rosalynn became actively involved in the day-to-day operations. Their partnership extended beyond the domestic sphere, with Rosalynn contributing significantly to the farm supply business. Her business acumen and contributions to decision-making earned her the respect of those around her.
As Jimmy’s political career blossomed, Rosalynn emerged as an adept political partner. During Jimmy’s term as the governor of Georgia, she exhibited keen political instincts and a commitment to public service. The Carters’ political journey continued to the White House when Jimmy assumed the presidency in 1977.
Rosalynn, unlike many of her predecessors, played a prominent role in the administration, sitting in on Cabinet meetings and addressing controversial issues. Her influence led some to dub her the “Steel Magnolia” for her outwardly gentle nature coupled with a strong will.
Rosalynn Carter made significant contributions to mental health advocacy throughout her life. Her interest in the field developed during Jimmy’s gubernatorial campaigns, where she often heard people share their problems.
As the honorary chairwoman of the President’s Commission on Mental Health, she became the first first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt to testify before a Senate subcommittee. Even after leaving the White House, Rosalynn remained committed to mental health causes, testifying before Congress in 2007 for improved mental health coverage.
Following the Carters’ departure from Washington, they co-founded The Carter Center in Atlanta, a hub for humanitarian efforts globally. Rosalynn chaired the annual symposium on mental health issues and engaged in projects to aid the mentally ill and homeless. The couple worked on Habitat for Humanity projects, exemplifying their commitment to hands-on humanitarian work.
Rosalynn Carter’s legacy lies in her pioneering role as a politically engaged first lady, advocate for mental health, and dedicated humanitarian. Her enduring partnership with Jimmy Carter, spanning more than 77 years, defined an era of American politics and global humanitarian efforts. Rosalynn’s impact continues to be felt through the initiatives she championed and the lives she touched.
Her passing marks the end of an era, leaving a legacy of advocacy, resilience, and unwavering support for her husband and the causes they championed together.