Former United States President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn are celebrating their 77th wedding anniversary at their South Georgia home on Friday, extending their record as the first longest-married couple, while both nonagenarians face serious health problems.
Carter is 98 years old and has been in hospice care at home since February. The former first lady is 95 years old and suffers from dementia. The Carter family has not provided details on their condition, but has said the two have enjoyed each other’s company and an influx of family members, along with occasional visits from close friends, in recent months.
“As we look back on his legacy, it’s been truly wonderful to see the outpouring of support, respect and love,” grandson Jason Carter recently said. “That word love is really what defines their personal relationship, but also the way they approach this world.”
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have been on the American and international stage together for half a century. What they described as “full partnership” began years earlier in the Carter family’s farm business before his political career and decades of global humanitarian work since leaving the White House in 1981 and establishing The Carter Center the following year.
Through the center, Jimmy Carter carried out multiple diplomatic missions, sheltering his successors in the Oval Office, even as he sometimes irritated them. The former president and the center’s employees have overseen at least 114 elections in Asia, Africa and the Americas since 1989. They recently turned their efforts to the US elections.
Among its public health outreach, the center’s guinea worm eradication program has all but conquered the waterborne parasite that once prevailed in the developing world.
Meanwhile, Rosalynn Carter has taken her main policy issue — mental health treatment and advocacy — beyond the White House and established an annual grant for journalists to focus on mental health coverage.
She also advocated widely for better services for caregivers, an approach the Carter family highlighted earlier this year when they announced the former first lady had dementia.
Beyond the Carter Center, the couple became the most famous volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, the international team that builds, repairs and renovates low-income housing.
The Carters first volunteered for Habitat in 1984, taking a bus from Georgia to their New York City workplace along with other volunteers. They would soon begin hosting annual builds named after the former president, donning helmets with volunteers until the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“Everything they’ve done is really just an extension of what they started and who they were in the White House,” said Donna Brazile, a former Democratic Party chairwoman who got her start in politics in Carter’s presidential campaigns. “Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are good, decent people.”
The Carters were married on July 7, 1946, in their hometown of Plains, but their relationship extends to the cradle.
Jimmy Carter’s parents were friends with Rosalynn’s parents. The mother of the future president was the nurse who gave birth to Eleanor Rosalynn Smith in the Smith family home in 1927.
Jimmy and Rosalynn got married shortly after graduating. They left the Plains with no intention of returning other than as visitors. But in 1953, James Earl Carter Sr. died, leaving the family’s farming and warehousing business behind. Carter decided to move his young family to Georgia.
The future president, who became a champion of women’s rights and appointed more women and non-whites to federal posts than any of his predecessors, later called it inconceivable that he would not consult his wife. However, over the next few years, Rosalynn Carter became a key partner in the family business.
That continued in politics, as Rosalynn Carter proved herself a skilled activist and forceful policy advocate in her own right, overcoming the youthful shyness the former president has portrayed in her writings and paintings.
Beyond their longevity, both Carters attribute their long marriage to open communication and their shared Christian faith.
“Every day there has to be reconciliation,” the former president said in 2021. “We are not going to sleep with some remaining differences between us.”
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