Rosalynn Carter, a lifelong advocate for mental health and human rights, died surrounded by family on Sunday afternoon, two days after she entered hospice care following a dementia diagnosis in May. She was 96.
Rosalynn was married to the nation’s 39th president, Jimmy Carter, for 77 years, and served as the first lady during his tenure from 1977 to 1981. She is survived by their four children and numerous grandchildren and great-children. Jimmy, who terminated medical intervention in February amid his own health challenges at the age of 99, remains in hospice care at home.
Born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith in Plains, Georgia, on Aug. 18, 1927, the future first lady was the oldest of four children, and took on many of the family responsibilities after her father died of leukemia when she was just 13.
After graduating high school, she attended Georgia Southwestern College in nearby Americus. It was after her freshman year in 1945 that she met the former president, who was back home in Plains from the U.S. Naval Academy. They were wed the following year.
Throughout the early years of their marriage, the Carters traveled while Jimmy was stationed with the Navy around the country — from Virginia to Hawaii to Connecticut.
In 1953, they returned back to Plains, when Jimmy left the Navy to take over his father’s peanut and fertilizer business with Rosalynn's help.
Rosalynn was a driving force behind her husband’s initial forays into politics, helping him eventually get elected as governor of Georgia in 1970.
As first lady during Jimmy's eventual tenure as president, she served as the honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health, eventually helping usher through the 1980 passage of the Mental Health Systems Act. She was also a champion of arts and arts programs and a frequent adviser to her husband.