Rosalynn Carter, a true life partner to Jimmy Carter who helped propel him from rural Georgia to the White House in a single decade and became the most politically active first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt, passed away on Sunday in Plains, Ga. at the age of 96. The Carter Center in Atlanta announced her death. It had disclosed on May 30 that Mrs. Carter had dementia. “She continues to live happily at home with her husband, enjoying spring in Plains and visits with loved ones,” a statement by the center said at the time. On Friday, the center said she had entered hospice care at home. Mr. Carter, 99, the longest-living president in American history, has also been in hospice care at their home, but so far he has defied expectations. The Carter Center had announced in February that he was stopping full-scale medical care “after a series of short hospital stays,” and his family was preparing for the end. But he has hung on — and celebrated his most recent birthday on October 1. Mrs. Carter was the second longest-lived first lady; Bess Truman, the widow of President Harry S. Truman, was 97 when she died in 1982.Over their nearly eight decades together, Mr. and Mrs. Carter forged the closest of bonds, developing a personal and professional symbiosis remarkable for its sheer longevity. Their extraordinary union began formally with their marriage in 1946, but, in a manner of speaking, it began long before that, with a touch of kismet, just after Rosalynn was born in Plains in 1927. She had been delivered by Mr. Carter’s mother, a nurse. And a few days later, in a scene that might have been concocted by Hollywood, his mother took little Jimmy to Rosalynn’s house, where he “peeked into the cradle to see the newest baby on the street,” as he recalled in his 2015 memoir, “A Full Life, Reflections at Ninety.” He was not quite 3. Eighteen years would pass before the two would truly connect. But once they did, they became life and work partners, melding so completely that as president Mr. Carter would call her “an almost equal extension of myself.”
Rosed at the same tiny patch of Georgia farmland, 150 miles south of Atlanta, they were similar in temperament and outlook. They shared a fierce work ethic, a drive for self-improvement and an earnest, even pious, demeanor. Their Christian faith was central to their lives. Both were frugal. Both could be stubborn. After Mr. Carter lost his re-election bid in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, he and Mrs. Carter embarked on what became the longest, most active post-presidency in American history. They traveled the world in support of human rights, democracy and health programs; domestically, they labored in service to others, most prominently pounding nails to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity. In October 2019, after more than 73 years of marriage, they became the nation’s longest-married presidential couple, surpassing the record set by George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush. The Carters marked their 77th wedding anniversary in July.
In the continuum of first ladies after Mrs. Roosevelt, Mrs. Carter broke the mold. Like most of the others, she championed a cause — hers was the treatment of mental illness. But she also immersed herself in the business of the nation and kept a sharp eye on politics, a realm her husband famously claimed to ignore. She frequently attended Mr. Carter’s cabinet meetings and traveled abroad to meet with heads of state in visits labeled substantive, not ceremonial. She often sat in on the daily National Security Council briefings held for the president and senior staff. The couple held a weekly working lunch to discuss policy. Mrs. Carter testified before Congress and lobbied its members. Her handwriting appears on the drafts of many of her husband’s speeches and policy addresses.
“A full 16 years before Bill and Hillary Clinton would offer themselves to the nation as a package deal with the slogan “Buy one, get one free,” the Carters functioned as near co-presidents. Mrs. Carter entered the White House at the height of the women’s movement and seemed to derive strength from it, though she did not identify herself as a feminist. She lobbied vigorously for the Equal Rights Amendment and for women to participate at all levels of government, from honor guard at the White House to justice of the Supreme Court.
For all of her involvement in presidential affairs, Mrs. Carter asserted that once her husband had made up his mind, she was powerless to change it. “He might be influenced to a certain degree,” she said, “but people just don’t change from my way of looking at things.”