Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter—Mental Health Advocate And ‘Equal Partner’ To Jimmy—Dies At 96
Updated Nov 19, 2023, 04:50pm EST
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter died Sunday at the age of 96, the Carter Center announced, days after her family said she had joined her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, in hospice care at their home in Plains, Georgia.
The former president, 99, commemorated his wife as his “equal partner in everything I ever accomplished” in a statement that said “as long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”
The former first lady was diagnosed with dementia in May, the Carter Center said, adding that it was making the announcement in alignment with her lifelong effort to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Rosalynn Carter was a tireless advocate for mental health during her time serving as the first Lady of both Georgia, when her husband was governor from 1971-1975, and during Jimmy Carter’s White House tenure from 1977-1981.
The couple founded the human rights nonprofit, the Carter Center, in the 1980s after he lost his re-election bid to former President Ronald Reagan, and were major contributors to Habitat for Humanity, which called them “two of the world’s most distinguished humanitarians” whose work for the organization has helped it build more than 4,400 homes in 14 countries over the past 35 years.
In addition to her husband, Rosalynn Carter is survived by her four children, John “Jack” Carter, 75, James “Chip” Carter III, 72, Donnell “Jeff” Carter, 70, and Amy Carter, 55, plus 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
“The best thing I ever did was marrying Rosalynn. That’s the pinnacle of my life, and we’ve had 69 years together. Still together . . .so that’s the best thing that happened to me,” Carter said in 2015.
Rosalynn Carter played an integral role in her husband’s political life and was deeply involved in his policy-making decisions at the White House, often sitting in on cabinet meetings and national security briefings, helping craft his speeches, lobby Congress members on policy issues and serving as honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health. She successfully urged Congress to make the office of the first lady a federally recognized position during her time in the White House and was said to be a naturally skilled politician—a “political animal,” former Democratic National Committee chair Robert Strauss once called her, according to the New York Times. She acted as a surrogate for her husband in his campaign for re-election, which he lost to Reagan by 440 electoral college votes as the Iran hostage crisis and economic concerns tanked his approval rating. In addition to advocating for mental health, Rosalynn Carter sought to elevate caretakers, and founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers in 1987. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom alongside her husband in 1999 for their humanitarian work, including helping eradicate disease in underdeveloped countries, promote democracy and help free political prisoners.
Jimmy Carter is the oldest living former U.S. president and his 77-year marriage with Rosalynn is the longest of any U.S. president in history. The couple celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary at an event in Plains in 2021 attended by Bill and Hillary Clinton, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and country singer Garth Brooks. The Carters grew up as neighbors in Plains, where Jimmy’s mother, a nurse, helped deliver Rosalynn and took her son to meet her days after she was born. They began dating when he was in the U.S. Naval Academy and were married in 1946.