Rosalynn Carter acclaimed by admirers for her pioneering advocacy for mental health, caregiving
Rosalynn Carter’s legacy includes her support for Habitat for Humanity. She helped her husband Jimmy frame houses across the country for the charity. (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter leaves a rich legacy of championing mental health and women’s rights.
She died Sunday just days after the family announced she had entered hospice at the home. She will be buried at the ranch house in Plains she and former President Jimmy Carter built in 1961.
She was married for 77 years to Jimmy Carter, who is now 99 years old and entered hospice early this year.
“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” Jimmy Carter said in a statement on the center’s website. “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.”
Tributes poured in from across the political spectrum Sunday, a testament to her broad popularity that transcended partisan politics and her enduring contributions to causes and charities that stoked her passion.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden on Sunday were at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia, participating in a Friendsgiving dinner with service members and military families from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Gerald R. Ford.
“Time and time again, during the more than four decades of our friendship – through rigors of campaigns, through the darkness of deep and profound loss – we always felt the hope, warmth, and optimism of Rosalynn Carter,” the president said in a statement. “She will always be in our hearts. 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.’’
Georgia Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff said Georgia and the country are better places because of Carter’s contributions.
“A former First Lady of Georgia and the United States, Rosalynn’s lifetime of work and her dedication for public service changed the lives of many,’’ Ossoff said. “Among her many accomplishments, Rosalynn Carter will be remembered for her compassionate nature and her passion for women’s rights, human rights, and mental health reform.’’
Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp paid tribute to her, recalling her service as Georgia’s first lady during Jimmy Carter’s term as governor starting in 1971.
“A proud native Georgian, she had an indelible impact on our state and nation as a First Lady to both,” Kemp said in a statement. “Working alongside her husband, she championed mental health services and promoted the state she loved across the globe. President Carter and his family are in our prayers as the world reflects on First Lady Carter’s storied life and the nation mourns her passing.’’
Former President Donald Trump said on X that he and his wife Melania joined in mourning Carter.
“She was a devoted First Lady, a great humanitarian, a champion for mental health, and a beloved wife to her husband for 77 years, President Carter,” said Trump.
Georgia GOP Congressman Rick Allen posted on the X social media platform: “Rosalynn was a beloved Georgian and dedicated her life to serving others. Our nation will miss her dearly, but her legacy will never be forgotten.”
Former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Carter “a saintly and revered public servant” and a leader “deeply driven by her profound faith, compassion and kindness.”
Pelosi, a California Democrat, recalled how Carter, while her husband was serving as Georgia governor, was moved by the stories of Georgia families touched by mental illness and took up their cause, despite the stigma of the time.
“Later, First Lady Carter served as honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health: offering recommendations that became the foundation for decades of change, including in the landmark Mental Health Systems Act,” Pelosi said. “At the same time, First Lady Carter was a powerful champion of our nation’s tens of millions of family and professional caregivers.”
The eldest of four children, Rosalynn was born at home in Plains on Aug. 18, 1927. One of her best childhood friends was Ruth Carter, Jimmy’s younger sister. Jimmy Carter’s mother, Lillian, was a nurse who treated Rosalynn’s father when he was ill with leukemia.
Rosalynn enrolled at Georgia Southwestern College in 1945 after she graduated from Plains High School with honors.
Jimmy Carter was home on leave from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis that fall when he asked her to go to a movie. By Christmas he’d proposed to her, but she turned him down because things were moving too fast for her. He soon asked again and the couple married at Plains Methodist Church July 7, 1946, a month after Jimmy graduated from Annapolis.
As Jimmy Carter climbed the Navy’s ranks, the couple started a family with sons John William (Jack) arriving in 1947, James Earl III (“Chip”) in 1950, and Donnell Jeffrey in 1952. Daughter Amy was born in 1967. (Jack Carter was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Nevada in 2006, losing to Republican incumbent John Ensign.)
Carter was accepted into an elite nuclear submarine program, and the young family then moved to Schenectady, N.Y. But when his father fell ill, Jimmy left his commission and moved back to Plains to take care of the family’s peanut business.
Rosalynn was an active campaigner during her husband’s political climb, beginning with his run for state senator in the early 1960s. By the time he was elected president in 1976, she vowed to step out of the traditional first lady role.
Five weeks after Inauguration Day, the President’s Commission on Mental Health was established with Rosalynn serving as honorary chairperson. The Mental Health Systems Act that called for more community centers and important changes in health insurance coverage, passed in 1980 at her urging.
In 1982, the couple founded the Carter Center in Atlanta, with a mission to “wage peace, fight disease and build hope.” She later founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving at the school now known as Georgia Southwestern State University, her alma mater. The institute was renamed the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers in 2020.
She was also an active partner in her husband’s philanthropic support for Habitat for Humanity, often joining him in framing houses for charity.
Three months after Jimmy entered hospice in February, the Carter family announced Rosalynn had dementia. She entered home hospice Nov. 17.
Rosalynn Carter is survived by her children — Jack, Chip, Jeff, and Amy — and 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
The Carter family requests that in lieu of flowers people consider a donation to the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program or the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers.
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