In October of 2019, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, former First Lady and advocate for numerous causes, celebrated yet another milestone in their years together when they became the longest-married presidential couple. (The previous record was held by George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush.)
On Nov. 19, 2023, just months after the couple celebrated their 77th wedding anniversary, Rosalynn passed away at age 96 after a battle with dementia. In a statement, her husband said Rosalynn was his "equal partner in everything I ever accomplished."
"She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it," Jimmy Carter said in a statement. "As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me."
Even if they weren't two of the most inspiring figures in American history, their love story would still be one for the ages.
Rosalynn Carter grew up just down the road from her future husband in Plains, Georgia. She was even a childhood friend of Jimmy's younger sister, Ruth. Though they'd known of one another their whole lives, they rarely crossed paths. But Rosalynn, three years younger than Jimmy, was taken by her longtime friend Ruth Carter's older brother from afar.
"I thought he was the most handsome young man I had ever seen," Rosalynn wrote in her 1984 biography First Lady From Plains (quote via E! News). "I don't remember ever having said a word to him except when we bought ice cream cones from him one summer in the old bank building on the main street in town. He seemed so glamorous and out of reach."
The Washington Post reports that while the former president was home from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1945, he fell in love with Rosalynn. Less than a year later, Carter proposed. But Rosalynn initially turned him down, explaining that she had made a promise to her father that she would finish college before getting married. After completing junior college, Rosalynn agreed to marry her lifelong love. The couple married on July 7, 1946. She was 18 and he was 21.
"I was cruising around with my sister, Ruth, and her boyfriend, just looking for a date, and I picked up Rosalynn in front of the Methodist church," Jimmy Carter recalled of the couple's first date in the book What Makes a Marriage Last (quote via ABC News). "I just felt compatible with her. 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."
Look back at the couple's incredible love story in photos.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter's Relationship Through the Years
The couple has fervently supported one another throughout the years. Rosalynn was by her husband's side as he returned to Plains, Georgia to take over his family's peanut farm and joined him on the campaign trail during his early '60s run for Georgia's state senate.
Carter ran for governor in Georgia in 1966 and 1970, when he became the 76th governor of the state.
Carter was elected as president in 1976 and Rosalynn made it clear from the beginning that she was no passive First Lady. She had her own ideas and ambitions and was determined to remain informed on political matters. Along with Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter supported the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1978, she hosted the First Lady's Employment Seminar, which sought to inform communities on how to deal with unemployment.
Rosalynn Carter was also passionate about removing the stigma around mental illness and providing mental health care to those who needed it. She served as an honorary chairperson on the President's Commission on Mental Health.
Throughout everything, former President Carter supported his wife and respected her as his equal.
"The best thing I ever did was marrying Rosalynn. That's the pinnacle of my life," Jimmy Carter said in a 2015 interview at The Carter Center.
The Carter Children
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have four children: John William (born 1947), James Earl "Chip" III (born 1950), Donnel Jeffrey (born 1952) and Amy (born 1967).
77 Years Together
Throughout their seven decades together, the Carters have been through several ups and downs. But through it all, the couple supported one another.
Former president Carter and Rosalynn remained committed to humanitarian work. The couple formed the Carter Center, dedicated to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering, and the Carter Work Project, a weeklong event for Habitat for Humanity. In 2019, at the age of 95 and after suffering a fall that left him with 14 stitches, Jimmy Carter, the oldest living president, helped build a Nashville home for Habitat for Humanity.
What was their secret to a happy and lasting marriage? During an interview on Oprah Winfrey's SuperSoul Sunday in 2016, former President Carter says he supports his wife's dreams and ambitions while letting her have her own space. And they never go to bed angry.
"Rosalynn has her own ideas, her own ambitions, her own goals in life, which, in some ways, are different from mine. I let her do her thing; she lets me do my thing," Carter said. "And we try to resolve our inevitable and fairly frequent differences before we go to bed at night."
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in October of 2019. It was updated on Nov. 20, 2023.
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