Saturday, 13 July

Rosalynn Carter: Wife of Jimmy Carter, former first lady dies aged 96

World News
Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter at the Royal Coach Inn in Atlanta during her husband’s successful 1976 presidential run. The couple married in 1946. Photograph: Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Rosalynn Carter, wife of the 39th president Jimmy Carter, has died at the couple’s Georgia home aged 96.

Carter, who became one of the nation’s leading mental health advocates during and after her husband’s time in the White House, was diagnosed with dementia in May.

On Friday, her family announced she had entered hospice care at home, joining her 99-year-old husband in end-of-life treatment in the Plains one-story residence they shared since before Jimmy Carter was elected a Georgia state senator in 1962.

The former president has been in hospice care there since February after declining further medical intervention for his own health issues.

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” Jimmy Carter said in a statement released Sunday afternoon by the Carter Center.

“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.”

The statement said Mrs Carter “died peacefully, with family by her side” at 2.10pm ET. An online tribute book is open at www.rosalynncartertribute.org.

Chip Carter, the couple’s middle son, said: “Besides being a loving mother and extraordinary first lady, my mother was a great humanitarian in her own right. Her life of service and compassion was an example for all Americans.

“She will be sorely missed not only by our family but by the many people who have better mental health care and access to resources for caregiving today.”

The former first lady was born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith in August 1927, in Plains, a small rural town of fewer than 600 people where her husband was also born and raised.

She was a fiercely loyal ally throughout his political career, both in the White House and during his years as a respected international diplomat after his single term in office ended in 1981. But she also forged her own identity for her mental health advocacy and as a social justice activist.

She founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers in 1987, and remained active in the organization into her later years.

The Carter Center, a human rights non-profit founded by the couple, paid tribute to her work in its statement earlier this year announcing her dementia diagnosis.

“Mrs Carter has been the nation’s leading mental health advocate for much of her life. We recognize, as she did more than half a century ago, that stigma is often a barrier that keeps individuals and their families from seeking and getting much-needed support,” it said.

“We hope sharing our family’s news will increase important conversations at kitchen tables and in doctor’s offices around the country.”

First lady Jill Biden on Sunday paid tribute to Carter during an event in Virginia. Joe Biden said the former first lady had “integrity”. Before departing the event in Norfolk, Virginia, the US president said: “The Carters are an incredible family because they brought so much grace to the office.”

Former president George W Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, in a statement called Carter “a woman of dignity and strength”.

Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi said Carter was a “saintly and revered public servant” driven by faith, compassion and kindness. “On the world stage, first lady Carter was a pioneer. Her historic, high-stakes diplomatic mission to Latin America in 1977 ushered in a new era of engagement in the region. Two years later, she became the first sitting first lady to address the World Health Organization, where she argued that mental health was an aspect of physical health – and that health is a human right,” Pelosi said in a statement offering condolences to the Carter family.

Rosalynn Carter and her husband were also supporters of Habitat for Humanity, raising awareness and funds for the Carter Work Project named for them, and frequently tackling projects themselves as “some of our best hands-on construction volunteers”.

The Georgia-based charity that the Carters worked for tirelessly said its members were saddened by her passing. “She was a compassionate and committed champion of #HabitatforHumanity and worked fiercely to help families around the world,” the group said on Twitter/X.

One of the couple’s final public appearances was at the Plains Peanut Festival in September, days before Jimmy Carter’s 99th birthday, when they rode the parade together in the back of an SUV.

Their families were already known to each other when they met while Jimmy Carter was at the US naval academy in Maryland during the second world war. They married in 1946, and helped run the Carter family’s peanut farm together until his political career took off.

She wore the same gown to Carter’s 1977 presidential inauguration as she had when he was elected Georgia governor in 1970.

The couple, who celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in 2021, had four children, Jack, Chip, James and Amy. Their sons were adults by the time Carter was elected president, but Amy, aged nine, was the subject of massive media attention and became one of the most famous child residents of the White House.

Source: theguardian.com