Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has died at the age of 96. A strong advocate for mental health, caregivers, and women’s rights, Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter died on Sunday, Nov. 19. She was the second-longest lived First Lady.
Rosalynn was the wife of the former President of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize winner, for 77 years. This marked the the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history. She entered hospice care on November 17 after a dementia diagnosis in May.
In addition to her status as a former First Lady and tireless global humanitarian, Rosalynn was the love of President Carter. Less well known is Mrs. Carter’s commitment to creating a more caring society by recognizing and supporting vulnerable populations. The focus of her work was to support families as they navigate the challenges and rewards that accompany caring for a loved one with chronic illness or disability.
The Carters’ Reaction
“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.”
PICTURE: Portrait of Rosalynn Carter and Jimmy Carter. PHOTO: COURTESY OF: Wikipedia Commons. (Dated: November 17,1978)
“Besides being a loving mother and extraordinary First Lady, my mother was a great humanitarian in her own right,” said Chip Carter. “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.”
The White House Statement on the Passing of Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has died at the age of 96. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden issued a statement on the passing of the Former First Lady, stating,
Throughout her incredible life as First Lady of Georgia and the First Lady of the United States, Rosalynn did so much to address many of society’s greatest needs. She was a champion for equal rights and opportunities for women and girls; an advocate for mental health and wellness for every person; and a supporter of the often unseen and uncompensated caregivers of our children, aging loved ones, and people with disabilities.
VIDEO: At a Friendsgiving with military service-members, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden remembered the late First Lady Rosalynn Carter after Carter died at 96. VIDEO: COURTESY OF: Forbes Breaking News VIA YOUTUBE.
Early Life and Family
Eleanor Rosalynn Smith was born on August 18, 1927, in Plains, Georgia, the daughter of Wilburn Edgar Smith, a farmer who also owned and operated the county’s first auto shop, and Frances Allethea Murray, a college graduate and homemaker. Strong religious and family values defined her childhood. Additionally, she developed an early acceptance of hard work and responsibility.
Rosalynn’s mother had to return to work after her father died of leukemia at the age of 44. Rosalynn, thirteen, assisted her mother with housework and caring for her siblings and grandfather. Plains High School valedictorian in 1944, Georgia Southwestern College valedictorian in 1946.
She began dating Jimmy shortly after.
A Navy wife to First Lady of the United States
She married Jimmy Carter, who had recently graduated from the United States Naval Academy, in 1946. Rosalynn Carter’s marriage to Jimmy Carter propelled her from a rural farming community to the White House.
Mrs. Carter characterized her time as a Navy wife as a coming-of-age experience in which she gained the confidence to manage a household with three babies on her own while her husband worked and was frequently aboard ship.
After Carter left the Navy and returned home to run the family business upon the death of his father, Rosalynn began working alongside her husband, keeping the books for the farms and the farm supply business. During Carter’s contentious 1962 race for the state Senate, which he won after exposing a stuffed ballot box, she received her first taste of politics.
Georgia’s First Lady
Mrs. Carter led a passionate fight against the stigma of mental illnesses as Georgia’s First Lady and worked to overhaul the state’s mental health care system.
When her husband was governor of Georgia, she served on the Governor’s Commission to Improve Services to the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped. During President Carter’s administration, she was an active honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health, and she was instrumental in the passage of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980.
Her duties in the governor’s mansion included entertaining visiting officials and diplomats, acting as a liaison to civic groups, and using her celebrity to promote childhood immunizations and other charitable causes. These experiences prepared her for the White House years.
Despite her shyness and fear of public speaking, she became fully engaged in subsequent campaigns for his re-election and governorship bids in 1966 and 1970. In the 1976 and 1980 presidential elections, she campaigned full-time on a separate schedule.
First Lady Rosalynn Carter
Rosalynn Carter, the first lady, forged her own path, inspiring a nation and the world along the way. In many ways, the Carter presidency’s legacy – which is perhaps better defined by the couple’s decades of post-presidency humanitarian work than by any single presidential act while in office – is as much hers as his.
Rosalynn was a key surrogate in Jimmy Carter’s political campaigns and then a critical component of his presidency from 1977 to 1980, serving as his closest adviser and being described in the national media as the “second-most powerful person in the United States.”
Aside from her unofficial clout, her official responsibilities included formal trips to Latin America as the president’s personal representative and a position as Honorary Chairperson of the President’s Commission on Mental Health. She attended Cabinet meetings, which was unusual for a first lady, and she was the first first lady to have her own active office in the East Wing.
Champion For the Rights of People With Mental Illnesses
Mental health was her defining cause in both her political work and later philanthropic activities. Mrs. Carter’s was committed to creating a more caring society by recognizing and assisting families as they navigate the challenges and rewards of caring for loved ones with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
Even before her husband was elected president, Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter was widely regarded as a leading advocate for mental health and caregiving, and she worked tirelessly to create a more caring society.
Rosalynn wanted “every person who needs mental health care to be able to receive it close to his home and to remove the stigma from mental health care so people will be free to talk about it and seek help.”
“It’s been taboo for so long to admit you had a mental health problem,” she said.
The Carter Center
PICTURE: The Carter Center. PHOTO: COURTESY OF: The Carter Center Facebook page. (Dated: March 13, 2013)
In her unwavering dedication to others, Former US President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter established the Carter Center in 1982 in collaboration with Emory University to advance global peace and health.
The Carter Center has assisted people in over 80 countries in improving their lives by resolving conflicts, advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity, preventing diseases, and improving mental health care.
Carter Center’s Mental Health Program
The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program, led by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, a longtime advocate for the rights of people with mental illnesses, works to raise awareness about mental health issues, inform public policy, achieve equity for mental health care comparable to other health care, and reduce stigma and discrimination against those with mental illnesses.
The Center’s convening power is used by the Mental Health Program to bring together health leaders and organizations to discuss critical public policy issues confronting mental health and substance use care systems nationwide and at the state level.
Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers (RCI)
When Rosalynn was 13 years old, her father received a cancer diagnosis. Following his diagnosis, she cared for him and her siblings. Her grandmother died unexpectedly a year after his death, and her bereaved grandfather moved into their home. These experiences shaped Mrs. Carter’s understanding of how lonely and stressful caregiving can be. She, also, cared for President Carter at various times during their seven-decade marriage.
Established in 1987 at her alma mater, Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Ga., Mrs. Carter addresses the concerns of those who care for people suffering from mental illnesses, chronic illnesses, and long-term disabilities through the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers (RCI). The RCI promotes the mental health and well-being of individuals, families, and professional caregivers. The RCI raises public awareness of caregiving needs, and advances public and social policies that strengthen caring communities.
RCI programs benefit both professional and family caregivers by improving coping skills and fostering greater emotional and physical well-being.
In Memoriam Rosalynn Carter
Aside from her children, Jack, Chip, Jeff, and Amy, Rosalynn Carter leaves behind 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. In 2015, a grandson died.
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