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Rosalynn Carter


In honor of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, the closest adviser to Jimmy Carter during his one term as U.S. president and their four decades thereafter as global humanitarians, died at the age of 96 on Sunday, 19 November 2023.

Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter built a huge family and wouldn’t have had it any other way. The former president and first lady share sons John William “Jack,” James Earl “Chip,” Donnel Jeffrey “Jeff” and daughter Amy Carter. Between their four adult children, they have 22 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The following is an excerpt from The Biographies of the First Ladies on WhiteHouse.gov.

Politically active Eleanor Rosalynn Carter was the wife of 39th President Jimmy Carter. Serving as the First Lady from 1977 to 1981, she was an envoy abroad and a leading advocate for numerous causes, including mental health research.

“She’s the girl I want to marry,” Jimmy Carter told his mother after his first date with 17-year-old Rosalynn Smith, who had grown up as a friend and neighbor of the Carter family in Plains, Georgia.

Born in Plains on August 18, 1927, Rosalynn was the first of four children in the family of Allethea Murray Smith and Wilburn Edgar Smith. She grew up in a small-town atmosphere that nurtured strong ties to family and dedication to church and community. When she was 13, her father died, and her mother became a dressmaker to help support the family. As the oldest child, Rosalynn worked beside her mother, helping with the sewing, the housekeeping, and the other children.

Times were difficult, but Rosalynn completed high school and enrolled in Georgia Southwestern College at Americus. In 1945, after her freshman year, she first dated Jimmy Carter, who was home from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Their romance progressed, and in 1946 they were married.

The young couple went to Norfolk, Virginia, Ensign Carter’s first duty station after graduation. The Navy kept them on the move. Their sons were born in different places: John William in Virginia, James Earl III in Hawaii, and Donnel Jeffrey in Connecticut. The Carters’ only daughter, Amy Lynn, was born in Georgia in 1967.

Jimmy left the service when his father died in 1953, and the Carters returned to Plains to run the family business. Managing the accounts of the peanut, fertilizer, and seed enterprise, Rosalynn soon found herself working full-time.

Jimmy entered politics in 1962, winning a seat in the Georgia Senate. Rosalynn, an important member of his campaign team, helped develop support for her husband’s successful bid for the governorship of Georgia in 1970. During his Presidential campaigns, Rosalynn traveled independently throughout the United States. Her belief in her husband’s ability to lead the nation was communicated in a quiet, friendly manner, making her an effective campaigner.

Jimmy Carter
GRAND Magazine issue saluting former President Jimmy Carter

 

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The biographies of the First Ladies on WhiteHouse.gov are from “The First Ladies of the United States of America,” by Allida Black—copyright 2009 by the White House Historical Association.

 

Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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