This love story begins in Plains, Georgia. That’s where Former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn would meet. They were both born and raised in a small farming town, just miles apart from one another and their love story would last a lifetime.
As Eleanor Rosalynn Smith would later describe in her memoir ‘First Lady from Plains,’ “Jimmy and I grew up three years and three miles apart.”
They would return to Plains throughout their career and settle there later in life.
“We do a lot of things, go a lot of places, but Plains is home, and we always come home,” Rosalynn said in the book.
After Jimmy proposed for a second time, Rosalynn accepted and the two were married on a warm Southern summer day, July 7, 1946. There wasn’t a ton of fuss, no invitations or anything like that. He was 21, she was 18 and they were in love. Rosalynn reportedly refused the first proposal and promised her father, on his deathbed, to finish college at Georgia Southwestern before getting married.
They are the longest-married presidential couple in U.S. history. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter commemorate 77th wedding anniversary
The couple is observing this special occasion at their residence in Plains, Georgia, although both are facing significant health struggles.
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Jimmy Carter, 98, has been under end-of-life care at home, receiving the utmost support and attention, while the former first lady, 95, has also been confronted with a recent diagnosis of dementia.
In the face of adversity, the Carters continue to demonstrate the profound strength and resilience that have characterized their remarkable journey together.
“As we have looked back, it’s been really wonderful to see the outpouring of support and respect, and love,” Jason Carter said. “And I think that word, love, is the one that really defines (Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s) personal relationship, but also the way they approach this world.”
This relationship, however, began decades before they got married.
Jimmy Carter’s mother, who was a nurse, helped deliver Rosalynn, and introduced the two kids when Jimmy was just 3 years old and Rosalynn was just days old.
As time went by, Rosalynn developed a deep friendship with Jimmy’s younger sister, who ended up becoming their matchmaker.
In 1945, Rosalynn, 17, went on a date with Jimmy, 20, and after their outing, Jimmy ran to his mom and said, “She’s the girl I want to marry.”
In her memoir, “First Lady From Plains,” Rosalynn admits that Jimmy was “the most handsome young man I had ever seen.”
Back in Georgia, the pair ran Carter’s Warehouse, a seed and farm supply company, in Plains and the farm he inherited.
When Mr. Carter ran for the Georgia Senate in 1962, Mrs. Carter was a member of his campaign team. She continued to help him get elected governor of Georgia in 1970 and later president.
Mr. Carter once said his wife is “much more political.”
“I love it,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “I love campaigning. I had the best time. I was in all the states in the United States. I campaigned solid every day the last time we ran.”
The couple is known for their strong bond and working together not just during his political career, but afterward as they helped build up Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds affordable housing, and run the Carter Center, which is committed to human rights “and the alleviation of human suffering.”
Among their public health outreach, the center’s Guinea worm eradication program has nearly conquered the water-born parasite once prevalent in the developing world. Known cases measured in the millions in the mid-1980s when Jimmy Carter set a goal of eradicating Guinea worm disease. There were fewer than two dozen cases in 2022 and, as of earlier this spring, the center had yet to document a case in 2023.
Rosalynn Carter, meanwhile, took her signature policy issue – mental health treatment and advocacy – beyond the White House and established an annual fellowship for journalists to concentrate on mental health reporting. She also advocated widely for better services for caregivers, a focus the Carter family highlighted earlier this year when they announced the former first lady had dementia.
Beyond the Carter Center, the couple became the most famous volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, the international outfit that builds, repairs and renovates homes for low-income people. The Carters first volunteered for Habitat in 1984, taking a bus from Georgia to the New York City worksite along with other volunteers. They would soon begin hosting annual builds bearing the former president’s name, donning hardhats with volunteers into their late 80s and early 90s.
“Everything they’ve done is really just an extension of what they started and who they were in the White House,” said Donna Brazile, a former Democratic Party chairwoman who got her start in politics on Carter’s presidential campaigns. “Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are just good, decent people.”
During her husband’s administration, Rosalynn became an esteemed advocate of mental health. She was active as the honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health, which helped pass the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980. The law outlined rights for mental health patients to receive the protection and services they require and placed emphasis on the mental health needs of minority populations.
Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, but Rosalynn has said the trail made the couple stronger. She said she loved campaigning and it had made the couple even stronger together.
According to the Jimmy Carter Library, on his 75th birthday, Carter was asked to name the most important thing he had ever done. His reply: “Marrying Rosalynn.”
The 39th president is 98 and has been in home hospice care since February. The former first lady is 95 and has dementia. The Carter family has not offered details of either Jimmy or Rosalynn Carter’s condition but has said they both have enjoyed time with each other and a stream of family members, along with occasional visits from close friends, in recent months.
“As we have looked back at their legacy, it has been really wonderful to see the outpouring of support and respect and love,” grandson Jason Carter said recently. “That word love is really the one that defines certainly their personal relationship, but also the way they approach this world.”
Beyond their longevity, both Carters credit their long marriage to open communication and their shared Christian faith.
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