Rosalynn Carter, 96, has died

Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady and closest advisor to Jimmy Carter during his term as president, died after living with dementia and suffering months of declining health.

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November 20, 2023 - 3:34 PM

Rosalynn Carter Photo by Wikimedia Commons

ATLANTA (AP) — 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, has died at the age of 96.

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

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” the former president 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.”

President Joe Biden called the Carters “an incredible family because they brought so much grace to the office.”

“He had this great integrity, still does. And she did too,” Biden told reporters as he was boarding Air Force One on Sunday night after an event in Norfolk, Virginia. “God bless them.” Biden said he spoke to the family and was told that Jimmy Carter was surrounded by his children and grandchildren.

Later, the White House released a joint statement from the president and first lady Jill Biden saying that Carter inspired the nation. “She was 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 statement added.

Reaction from world leaders poured in throughout the day.

The Carters were married for more than 77 years, forging what they both described as a “full partnership.” Unlike many previous first ladies, Rosalynn sat in on Cabinet meetings, spoke out on controversial issues and represented her husband on foreign trips. Aides to President Carter sometimes referred to her — privately — as “co-president.”

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

The former president, now 99, remains at the couple’s home in Plains after entering hospice care himself in February.

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.”

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.”

Both Carters said in their later years that Rosalynn had always been the more political of the two. After Jimmy Carter’s landslide defeat in 1980, it was she, not the former president, who contemplated an implausible comeback, and years later she confessed to missing their life in Washington.

Jimmy Carter trusted her so much that in 1977, only months into his term, he sent her on a mission to Latin America to tell dictators he meant what he said about denying military aid and other support to violators of human rights.

She also had strong feelings about the style of the Carter White House. The Carters did not serve hard liquor at public functions, though Rosalynn did permit U.S. wine. There were fewer evenings of ballroom dancing and more square dancing and picnics.

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