Rosalynn Carter, Former First Lady, Dies at Age 96

Rosalynn Carter, the wife of former President Jimmy Carter, has died at the age of 96.

“Rosalynn is my best friend… the perfect extension of me, probably the most influential person in my life,” Jimmy Carter, who was married to Rosalynn for more than 77 years, told aides during their White House years, which spanned from 1977-1981.

The Carter Center said the former First Lady died Sunday after living with dementia and suffering many months of declining health. The statement announcing her death said she “died peacefully, with family by her side” at 2:10 p.m. at her rural Georgia home of Plains.

Described as “fiercely loyal and compassionate as well as politically astute,” Rosalynn Carter prided herself on being an “activist first lady,” and no one doubted her behind-the-scenes influence. When her role in a highly publicized Cabinet shakeup became known, she was forced to declare publicly, “I am not running the government.”

President Jimmy Carter exclaimed: “Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” adding, “She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it.” President Carter poignantly said, “As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”

The former first lady has been variously described as ‘the closest adviser to Jimmy Carter,” “outspoken,”  and having forged with her husband what they both described as a “full partnership.” As reported, “Unlike many previous first ladies, Rosalynn sat in on Cabinet meetings, spoke out on controversial issues and represented her husband on foreign trips.” According to news coverage, aides to President Carter sometimes referred to her — privately — as “co-president.”

Many presidential aides insisted that her political instincts were better than her husband’s — they often enlisted her support for a project before they discussed it with the president. Her iron will, contrasted with her outwardly shy demeanor and a soft Southern accent, inspired Washington reporters to call her “the Steel Magnolia.”

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” former President Carter said in the statement. “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.”

The former president, now 99, remains at the couple’s home in Plains after entering hospice care himself in February. See here for a representative in-depth discussion and detailed accolades on the life of Rosalynn Carter.

D & B Staff

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Episode 137