Rosalynn Carter, Former First Lady, Dead at 96

The lifelong mental health advocate was married to former President Jimmy Carter for 77 years.

Rosalynn Carter, former first lady and half of America’s longest-lived presidential couple in history, died Sunday afternoon (Nov. 19), two days after entering hospice care. She was 96.

“Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, a passionate champion of mental health, caregiving, and women’s rights, passed away Sunday, Nov. 19, at 2:10 p.m. at her home in Plains, Georgia, at the age of 96. She died peacefully, with family by her side,” reads a statement from The Carter Center, the nonprofit she founded with her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, in 1982.

Carter was born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith in Plains, Ga., on Aug. 18, 1927. She met Jimmy while in college in 1945 and married him a year later. They moved around the country while he was in the U.S. Navy.

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She helped her husband in his successful 1970 Georgia gubernatorial campaign, and together they carved a path to the White House, where he served as the 39th president from 1977 to 1981. Carter developed a reputation for being more politically involved than most of her first lady predecessors, sitting in on Cabinet meetings and even traveling to represent her husband in foreign affairs.

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” said Jimmy, 99, who is in hospice care at home, in a statement from The Carter Center. “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.”

Mrs. Carter was a staunch mental health advocate, serving as honorary chair of her husband’s Commission on Mental Health as first lady. She helped usher in the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, legislation that provided grants to community mental health centers, before Congress during President Ronald Reagan’s tenure repealed most of it.

She also served as chair of The Carter Center’s Mental Health Task Force and spearheaded the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism in 1996, which have awarded a diverse group of more than 200 journalists from across the planet to help them report on mental health issues.

In a statement, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden issued a statement, calling Mrs. Carter 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."
The Bidens made note of the longstanding marriage between the Carters and "their humble leadership" as "the definition of patriotism.  She lived her life by her faith."

Carter entered hospice care following a dementia diagnosis in May. She is survived by her husband, their four children, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


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