Former first lady of the United States Rosalynn Carter, whom President Jimmy Carter called an extension of himself because of her prominent role in his administration, even as she tirelessly advocated for mental health causes, died Sunday at the age of 96, the Carter Center said.
Rosalynn Carter died peacefully with her family by her side, according to a statement.
In May 2023, the Carter family said Rosalynn had dementia but continued to live happily at the couple’s home in Plains, Georgia.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are the longest-married presidential couple, having married in 1946, when he was 21 and she was 18.
“The best thing I ever did was marry Rosalynn,” Carter told cable television channel C-SPAN in 2015. “That was the highlight of my life.”
Before coming to Washington in 1977, he was seen as a modest and quiet man, but he became a great speaker and campaigner.
His abiding love, which transcended his years in the White House, for the mentally ill was not because of a personal connection but because of a strong feeling that they needed to be protected.
Before Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976, Rosalynn was little known outside of Georgia, where her husband was a peanut farmer who became governor. A Democrat, he served a four-year term and lost his bid for re-election in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, a former Republican governor of California and Hollywood actor.
The first woman was also sent to important official missions in Latin America and was part of the unsuccessful campaign for the approval of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution of the United States to guarantee the equal treatment of women before the law.
Eleanor Rosalynn Smith was born Aug. 18, 1927, in Plains, daughter of Edgar and Alice Smith, and married Carter on July 7, 1946. They had four children.
Her interest in mental health issues emerged in the early 1970s, when she began to realize, while helping her husband campaign for governor, the depth of the problem in her state of Georgia and the reluctance of people to talk about it.
As Georgia’s first lady, she was a member of the governor’s commission to improve services for the mentally ill.
At the White House, he became the honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health, which was key to the passage of a 1980 law that helped fund local mental health centers.
After he left Washington, he continued his work through the Carter Center, a private nonprofit institution founded by the Carters in Atlanta in 1982. He continued to advocate for mental health, early childhood immunization, human rights, resolving conflicts, and empowering urban communities.
In their post-Washington years, the Carters were also key figures in the charity Habitat for Humanity, which helps build homes for families in need. His humanitarian efforts were crowned in 2002, when Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Maranatha Baptist Church, where Rosalynn served as a deacon and past president as a longtime deacon and Sunday school teacher.