Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter died Sunday at 96, almost immediately after entering hospice care for dementia.
A statement from the Carter Center confirmed she died at 2:10 p.m. in the Plains, Georgia, home she shared with her husband of 77 years, former President Jimmy Carter, 99.
She died with family surrounding her.
Along with her husband, she is survived by her children Jack, Chip, Jeff and Amy, her 11 grandkids, and her 14 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by a grandson who died in 2015.
President Carter said in a statement, “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.”
The Carters’ son Chip 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.”
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden remembered her in a lengthy statement, observing, “First Lady Rosalynn Carter walked her own path, inspiring a nation and the world along the way… On behalf of a grateful nation, we send our love to President Carter, the entire Carter family, and the countless people across our nation and the world whose lives are better, fuller, and brighter because of the life and legacy of Rosalynn Carter.”
Former First Lady Michelle Obama reflected, “You learn very quickly that there is no handbook or rules to being First Lady. Technically, it’s not even an official position. And while there are spoken and unspoken expectations that provide some structure, the role is largely shaped by the passions and aspirations of the person holding it. First Lady Rosalynn Carter understood that well.” She went on to hail Carter’s “remarkable legacy.”
Born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith on August 18, 1927, in Plains, she began dating future President Carter in 1945, having seen a photograph of him in his Annapolis Navy uniform. They wed July 7, 1946.
Acknowledged as an instrumental force in Jimmy Carter’s career, Rosalynn campaigned effectively for him when he ran for governor of Georgia in 1970. Carter won, serving 1971-1975, during which time Rosalynn focused on mental health as first lady of her home state.
Fighting for the rights of mentally disabled kids was a lifelong mission. She was later only the second U.S. first lady to testify before Congress, driven by her advocacy on the topic many years before it was in vogue.
Hot on the heels of their success in Georgia, the couple embarked on a grueling campaign for the U.S. presidency. Carter defeated President Gerald Ford, serving as the nation’s 37th POTUS from 1977-1981.
Rosalynn Carter took the unusual step of sitting in on her husband’s Cabinet meetings, at his invitation, elevating the traditional role of first lady from that of hostess. Some referred to her as a co-president, both in admiration and disapproval.
The Iran hostage crisis and inflation proved too much for the Carters to overcome, leaving an opening for Ronald Reagan to make Carter a one-termer, but after leaving the White House, the couple’s popularity soared over the ensuing decades, aided by their tireless humanitarian work.
Rosalynn was the second longest-lived U.S. first lady, after Bess Truman, who lived to be 97. She and President Carter were married longer than any other POTUS and FLOTUS, and President Carter is the longest-lived U.S. president, has lived the longest post-presidency, and is the oldest living U.S. president. He is in hospice care in Plains.
Funeral and memorial details will soon be posted here.