In Memoriam: Rosalynn Carter

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter died this afternoon at age 96, two days after entering hospice. Her husband former president Jimmy Carter remains in hospice care where he has been since February this year.

Born in Plains, Georgia, Rosalynn came from a working class family. She was salutatorian of her high school graduating class and accepted at state public school Georgia Southwestern College. She left college when she married Jimmy which was typical for young women in 1946.

Carter differed from her predecessors Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford; she’d sought not to be a typical First Lady. This may in part have been due to her southern working class upbringing, the changing times during which her husband was in the White House, and in part the continued role raising their fourth child Amy while her husband Jimmy was president. While her three older brothers were adults at the time, Amy was only nine when her father was inaugurated.

Rosalynn was a staunch advocate for mental health care during Jimmy’s governorship in Georgia. She remained one as First Lady, serving on the National Association of Mental Health’s board of directors.

While Jimmy was in the White House, the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment faced an initial 1979 deadline for ratification. Rosalynn supported the ERA; honored by the National Organization for Women, she spoke at the 1977 National Women’s Conference. Her advocacy included campaigning for Bob Graham, an ERA proponent who was elected as Florida’s governor in 1978 and eventually as Senator in 1986. She played a direct role in ratification by the 35th state, calling a fence-sitting Democratic Indiana state legislator to ask them to vote for the ERA.

Her humanitarian work didn’t end when her husband left office. Co-founding with Jimmy the Carter Center, her continued mental health care advocacy was folded in with other initiatives including disease prevention, conflict resolution, and advancing peace and democracy. In later years she worked alongside her husband on Habitat for Humanity projects.

The Carter Center published a press release this afternoon which included a statement by Rosalynn’s husband:

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” President Carter said. “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.”

Rosalynn and Jimmy celebrated their 77th wedding anniversary earlier this year; she is survived by her spouse, their four children, 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

67 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    IMPORTANT: Treat this as an open thread with one exception: nothing related to Donald Trump is permitted in this thread.

    I will not have that man further demean her in death as he did in life this week.

    If you disregard this request your comment will be purged.

    • Rayne says:

      I told a friend earlier this is what a happily-ever-after looks like — long rich lives doing good for others, mourned and missed at the end.

      • Valerie Klyman-Clark says:

        A couple of things come to mind, aside from thank you, Rayne for such a lovely tribute to a truly stellar human.

        Love in action, she and her husband-that’s what they are.

        A generous heart and a life of service. I cannot get over how verklempt-making this is . . . Thank you All (Among the Finest Commentariat on the Interwebs).

  2. Elvishasleftthebuilding says:

    I got to meet Roslynn and Jimmy Carter in April of 1981 on a bus tour with a bunch of Georgia high school students. We met them in Plains. I know I did not appreciate the honor that was being given to me – that they took the time to visit with us – we weren’t important nor we were overly respectful. It was a strange time in the US and I don’t think we appreciated what we were losing when Ronald Reagan was elected President.

    • Rayne says:

      I admit to not appreciating the Carters when Jimmy was elected, but I was 16 at the time and they just didn’t seem cool when I was immersed deeply in hard rock and pre-punk/proto-goth stuff.

      It took the wretched Reagan years and growing up before I realized just what we’d had and lost. Had Jimmy been able to successfully push this country toward increased energy conservation, we could have staved off the climate crisis for a decade or more. But nope — we were just not ready, too immature and selfish as a country.

      • Bobby Gladd says:

        My wife and I have always been Jimmy & Roz fans (we both think he got a bit of a raw deal as Prez). We’re comin’ up on 50 yrs together shortly. Can’t hold a candle to them.

        We just remarked that President Carter will likely now not be far behind her. My heart is with the entire Carter family.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Maybe. But Mr. Carter has been in that hospice since February of this year. He keeps on ticking.

        • earthworm says:

          the derision heaped upon Carter in his term and thereafter is parallel to the derision being heaped upon Biden.
          it is done with the aim of undermining and in many areas is superficial and undeserved.
          when one pauses to look back, and review the ignominy that followed, and continues to follow our country, well — godspeed to the Carters! may their names be remembered ever more honorably.

          • posaune says:

            I read today about an interview Roselynn gave with Barbara Walters after the 1980 election. Barbara asked her what she thought about Ronald Reagan.
            Her response: “He is someone who makes people comfortable with their prejudices.”

          • bevbuddy says:

            We do need the true stories widely reported to do justice to the Carters (they were a team of equals) and to the candidates and politicians who support a democracy, so that the future is better protected than the past.

            Quoting Thom Hartmann

            Why Has America Tolerated Six Illegitimate GOP Presidents?
            “Power at any cost” has been the Republican slogan…

            From 1960 to today a series of leaders within the Republican Party have abandoned the democracy that American soldiers fought the Revolutionary War to secure, the Civil War to defend here at home, and World War II in Europe and the Pacific to defend around the world.

            This has brought us a series of criminal Republican presidents and corrupt Republican Supreme Court justices, who’ve legalized political bribery while devastating voting and civil rights.

            None of this was a mistake or an accident, because none of these people truly believed in democracy.

            The Iran hostage crisis continued and torpedoed Jimmy Carter’s re-election hopes. And the same day Reagan took the oath of office — to the minute, as Reagan put his hand on the bible, by way of Iran’s acknowledging the deal — the American hostages in Iran were released.

            Keeping his side of the deal, Reagan began selling the Iranians weapons and spare parts in 1981 (and using the money to illegally fund rightwing neofascist death squad “Contras” in Nicaragua) and continued until he was busted for it in 1986, producing the so-called “Iran Contra” scandal.

            Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court, solidifying its rightwing tilt. We’d learn, in the Bush v Gore case in 2000 when they awarded the White House to the son of Reagan’s VP, that none of the three of them valued democracy.

            [Thanks for updating your username to meet the 8 letter minimum. /~Rayne]

      • Allagashed says:

        I was a 16 year old American know it all, living in Tehran in 1979. Then the revolution happened. I blamed Carter, for everything that came before and after. It wasn’t until years later, talking to former state department wonks, that I learned what a truly good man he was. I know this comment isn’t really about Rosalynn Carter, but I have no doubt her words were in his ear at the time. What a pair they made…

  3. LadyHawke says:

    I remember someone at a family dinner praising something kind that Reagan did while he was president for a person in need. An older relative commented that he was known to do so sometimes, when he heard about a particular case, “kindness by anecdote.”
    While President Carter didn’t need to know specific people to be concerned about how an issue impacted people in general – and thus was able to be a better president and better human being.
    That impressed me as a good measure of a politician – and I think one President Biden easily passes.

  4. Ebenezer Scrooge says:

    Rayne, thank you for your thoughtfulness with this open thread. I don’t have anything else useful to say–the Carters make me feel like a moral midget.

    • ExRacerX says:

      Ditto—I’d also feel uncomfortable posting anything non-Roz-related, open thread or not.

      R.I.P. to a truly great human, and condolences to Jimmy, her family & friends, and all at EW. Rosalynn Carter touched a lot of people.

  5. Tracy Lynn says:

    Rest in peace dear Roslynn. Her quiet advocacy promoting mental health reminds me of just what this country has lost. It has been a l-o-n-g time since we had humanitarians at the head of our country who lived their Christian values. My heart breaks for the family.

  6. Sussex Trafalgar says:

    I attended an outdoor Jimmy Carter campaign speech in 1976 at Capitol Park in Sacramento. Rosalynn was also there. Great couple to see in person. Jimmy Carter spoke pretty good Spanish during a portion of his speech, too.

  7. Zinsky123 says:

    Jimmy Carter was arguably the greatest ex-president this country ever had. From Habitat for Humanity, to his work in eradicating guinea worm in Africa to the vote monitoring efforts he was involved with world-wide, he touched human hearts and saved lives across the globe. Throughout it all, his beloved wife Rosalynn was by his side. My favorite story about them is from when my brother-in-law and his family were on a driving trip through the South in the 1990s. They were driving through Plains, GA on a Sunday morning and there, walking home from church, was Jimmy and Rosalynn, walking down the street with two Secret Service agents. They pulled over and the Carters stopped and spent 10 minutes talking with them, as if they had known them for years. They taught Sunday school every Sunday for decades and considered it to be one of their favorite activities together. Rosalynn Carter was a simple, decent, loving woman who lacked pretension or conceit and truly loved her husband and this country. There are few left like her.

    • Thomas Paine says:

      Wonderful story. The Carters were great people and President Carter never got the credit he deserved for his leadership in Georgia or Washington DC. Like true patriots, however, the Carters never lost their love for our country. Rest in Peace, Mrs. Carter. President Carter, please know we share your grief and pray for your peace. May God be with you.

    • Raven Eye says:

      Several years ago I put that same proposition to a retired Army sergeant major I worked with. I read that look in his eyes and when he started to disagree, I put my hand up and reminded him that I had said “greatest ex-president”. He stopped, thought, and agreed with me.

      Rosalynn Carter will be missed, but she and Jimmy partnered to do good works in orders of magnitude greater than many, many others that are also, or will be, missed. At funerals and memorials we “celebrate the life of…”. Truly we celebrate the life of Rosalynn Carter.

  8. giantpysch says:

    I met Rosalyn Carter in 1999 when I was at UC-Irvine and serving as a psychologist in a clinic for the Developmentally Disabled. She was part of the dedication ceremony for a new Brain Imaging Center. While First Lady, Mrs Carter worked diligently to ease the stigma of mental illness and later wrote a book entitled, Helping Someone with Mental Illness. She graciously signed it for me. And she was gracious in all her endeavors after leaving the White House as many have already noted. She ended her talk at the Brain Imaging Center using this quote: I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. Her life was one of saying and doing the right thing even though that was rarely the easy thing and many will not forget her. Thank you for memorializing her today.

  9. Eichhörnchen says:

    I was just a tween when Carter was elected. I remember vividly watching on TV as Jimmy and Rosalynn walked hand-in-hand down Pennsylvania Ave. My mother, a journalist in the Wash, DC area, was astonished to see them walking, holding hands, like “normal people.”

    • Baltimark says:

      I was 11 myself. My Iowa farm parents were Rockefeller Republicans like maybe a quarter of our neighbors in that farms-and-factories (Maytag, Vermeer, Pella Windows, etc.) landscape. We had had a mock election in which most of my classmates had clearly been Carter supporters. Voting was closed, so I was mildly surprised when a friend said, “you voted for Ford, didn’t you?” I said yes and asked how he knew. He then removed the DOLE (bananas) sticker that he had unbeknownst to me placed on my back minutes earlier. Well played, Curt Gifford, well played.

      Within a couple years, frequent trips with dad to the Varsity Newstand in Grinnell had expanded my voracious periodical reading outward from model rockets, music, travel, and — er — futurism (FUTURE at this point in time but then OMNI mid-term) to politics, culture, and arts ‘n’ letters in Harper’s, The Atlantic, NYRB, etc. By the time I joined the freshman debate team, I was a staunch Carter man (which, btw, was fine with my folks).

        • Fran of the North says:

          I was an Estes guy, took Model Rocketry in 7th & 8th grade as an elective. Did a bit in HS, and built a couple a few years back as a lark. Still fun.

          If you haven’t looked at Tripoli & the NAR, you should, they are doing astounding stuff – loading their own motors etc. Literally get FAA clearance and a commercial no fly zone for their annual shoot in the Black Rock desert. At some point I’d like to go to one of their local launch days.

          And back on topic, Rosalyn was an inspiration to not only her husband but to those of us who aim to make a better world.

  10. Obansgirl says:

    My husband and I just commented tonight that the “don’t make them like this anymore”. Wonderful caring people. Public serving and role models both. Rosalynn was a wonder. How we have strayed.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Same here, bmaz. In 1980 my vote cancelled out my dad’s Reagan vote, but he talked my sister into joining him. To this day she regrets casting her first vote for Reagan.

        • LaMissy! says:

          McGovern was my first and Massachusetts was the only state he carried. Our bumper stickers said “Don’t blame us, we voted for McGovern” in the Nixonian aftermath.

    • William Allen Simpson (DayDreamer) says:

      We are of an age (born in 1957). My first presidential vote was also for Carter. I’d been raised as a rock-ribbed Republican; my maternal ancestors were proud founders of the party here in Michigan. After listening to the Nixon investigation on the radio for weeks during Driver’s Ed just as I was becoming politically aware, followed by the infamous pardon, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Ford (even though he was also from Michigan). Also Carter was an engineer, so had a lot of support among my engineering school peers. We had such high hopes then.

      • Rayne says:

        The Republicans you wished you could have voted for were like Michigan’s Bill Milliken. The party really changed when you were coming of age; I nearly became a Republican then myself but Reagan following Nixon put paid to that.

    • Chirrut Imwe says:

      I missed getting to vote for Mr. Carter by 3 weeks. I would have liked to have pulled that handle as a brand new voter.

      Thank you Rayne – the Times did an amazing obit on Roz as well. I must admit that there was so much about her that I did not know. She was an absolute treasure. It took me 15 minutes to read it to Mrs. Imwe – not without a tear or two. I think my favorite part was that Rosalynn was delivered by Jimmy’s mother, and a few days later momma brought him over to see her, where he “peeked into the cradle to see the newest baby on the street” – he was not quite 3 years old.

      • Rayne says:

        That anecdote about Rosalynn’s birth says so much about the Carters as representatives of a time past, when Americans knew and relied upon their neighbors because of an intimacy acquired by lifetimes’ proximity. We don’t know each other like this today in spite of the pervasive and invasive nature of social media. When a woman gives birth, who helps her? Who checks on her? This is one of the undocumented reasons for escalating infant and maternal mortality; corporatized health care isn’t a substitute for a community which is engaged in caring for its members.

        In saying goodbye to Rosalynn we’re saying goodbye to something else more profound about our recent American history.

  11. e.a. foster says:

    I remember when Jimmy Carter became Pres. and Rosalynn Carter became the First Lady. They truly made the world a better place with all the work they did. Loved how they would go and work on Habitat for Humanity projects, Secret Service agents in tow. Rosalynn Carter was amazing. Her legacy certainly will live on. Americans were lucky to have had them as leaders. How they voted for Reagan after that still boggles the mind.

  12. Matt Foley says:

    I wonder if we’ll ever again see a POTUS and First Lady as humanitarian as the Carters.

    I remember when Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House. I liked his concern for energy efficiency and environment and I thought it set a good example. Then Reagan took them down.

  13. MsJennyMD says:

    A caring, compassionate and conscious couple.

    “Do what you can to show you care about other people, and you will make our world a better place.”
    Rosalynn Carter

  14. Bob Rounhead says:

    When I try to hold an image of a good Christian Woman in my head, Rosalynn Carter is the one which burns brightest.

  15. pdaly says:

    Thanks, Rayne, for the great In Memoriam of Rosalynn Carter. It is always nice to be reminded of honorable people who show us how to live an exemplary life.

    The Carters’ time in the WH overlapped my elementary school and junior high years. While not politically aware back then, I do recall the seemingly nonstop negative press about Pres. Carter and also my puzzlement at it. He also came across as a decent person whenever I’d catch him in a speech on the news.

      • pdaly says:

        Ha ha! I remember the criticism of them walking (WALKING!) to the White House after the inauguration. Ted Kennedy used to walk the Fourth of July parade in my neighborhood, so I didn’t get the crazy criticism.

  16. tinaotinao says:

    The Carters are what real Christians look and act like. They are a blessing to our country. And yes, Jimmy was the first President I voted for. Maybe people who claim to be Christian can take the time to find out who they are.

  17. KayInMD says:

    I know I’m a day late to this, but I just had to add to your beautiful tribute.

    Jimmy Carter was my second Presidential vote (my first was for George McGovern, back when you had to be 21 to vote). It was a terrible time; civil rights, Vietnam war, assassinations of Martin Luthor King and Robert Kennedy, riots, campus unrest, Watergate. Polarization probably was almost as bad if not as bad, as it is now. And just as it is now, the Republican party was fanning the flames. Into this miasma walked a quiet, almost unknown peanut farmer and his wife, Rosalynn. Jimmy wasn’t a great politician. He was an engineer who knew how to identify and solve problems. His secret weapon was his wife, Rosalynn, who was one of his best,most trusted advisors. She was by his side when he made many of the tough decisions.

    Carter’s lack of political instincts left him open to the kind of attacks and dirty tricks for which Republicans are known. And they made a point of stripping away every element of his legacy as soon as Reagan took office, just as they stripped the solar panels from the White House roof. So Petty! No matter. Rosalynn and Jimmy went about building a more positive, lasting legacy than those who followed could ever dream of through The Carter Center. Their fight to eradicate schistosomiasis and guinea worm have been remarkable. Habitat for Humanity is another achievement.

    Thanks for posting this, Rayne, and giving all of us a chance to remember such a wonderful woman, and wonderful couple.

    • Marc says:

      A tiny correction, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution lowering the voting age to 18 was ratified on July 1, 1971. I also voted for George McGovern, when I was just 18.

    • MarcRamz says:

      A tiny correction, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution lowering the voting age to 18 was ratified on July 1, 1971. I also voted for George McGovern, when I was just 18.

      [Thanks for updating your username to meet the 8 letter minimum. /~Rayne]

  18. Just Some Guy says:

    Thank you for this post. As I mentioned in earlier comments this year, not too long ago I read my dad’s copy of “His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life” by Jonathan Alter which he didn’t have time to read before he died this spring. My dad was an alternate delegate for Carter in Texas in 1976, then (like most of the country) swung to the right and voted for Reagan and H.W. Bush (ugh on both accounts), then came to his senses later. And much later, he and my stepmother had the occasion to attend a Sunday school class led by the Carters, which they both very much enjoyed and talked about for years. If there’s a well-written biography of Rosalynn out there, I’d like to read it, since I didn’t really get much of a sense of who she was from “His Very Best,” though obviously she is a major figure in it.

    I was five in 1980, and my mom took my older brother and me with her to the polling place on election day. After she voted, and the curtain of the voting booth opened, I announced to the entire room that “I’m proud of my mom because she voted for Jimmy Carter!”

  19. MT Reedør says:

    “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” documentary was tons of fun. Rosalynn is in there a bit too.

    This is worth seeing. Cartoon: Mike Luckovich on Rosalynn Carter

  20. synergies says:

    ** Comment deleted for inclusion of unacceptable material and ignoring contributor/moderator. See first comment at the top of this thread. **

  21. kmlisle-1 says:

    Thank you Rayne and all the commenters here for your eloquent tributes to a great woman. I am midstream in Rachel Maddow’s Prequel right now and wonder how Jimmy and Rosalynn experienced that low point in our recent history just before we entered WWII. I believe they would have been in elementary school.
    My admiration of Rosalyn made me remember my mother admiring Eleanor Roosevelt in her day and how that kind of leadership in American has come around again. It makes me think that progress of all kinds comes in waves and troughs and that MLK’s Arc of justice is actually wavey. May we avoid so deep a trough that democracy cannot recover and celebrate all the decent people who create the crests.

Comments are closed.