“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” President Carter said. “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.”
She is survived by her husband, her four children, 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Then Georgia State Sen. Jimmy Carter hugs his wife, Rosalynn, at his Atlanta campaign headquarters in Sept. 1966. (AP Photo/File)
Born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith on Aug. 18, 1927, in Plains, Georgia, she was the oldest of four children in the family of Allethea Murray Smith and Wilburn Edgar Smith.
When she was 13, her father died and her mother became a dressmaker to help support her family. Carter worked alongside her mother and helped take care of her young siblings.
After completing high school, she 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, Maryland.
“She’s the girl I want to marry,” President Carter reportedly told his mother after his first date with Rosalynn Smith, who had grown up as a friend and neighbor of the Carter family in Plains.
Rosalynn holds a Bible as her husband Jimmy Carter takes the oath of office at his Presidential Inauguration in 1977.(Hulton Archive)
A biography of Carter credited to the White House Historical Association describes her “quiet, friendly manner” which made her “an effective campaigner” for her husband.
As first lady of Georgia and later the United States, Carter worked tirelessly to create what she called “a more caring society,” a biography by The Carter Center, a nonprofit she and Jimmy Carter co-founded in 1982, notes.
The former first lady Rosalynn Carter speaks to the press at conference at The Carter Center on Nov. 5, 2019, in Atlanta, Georgia.
“An activist first lady with her own bold agenda, she created a distinct East Wing office from which she set about helping disadvantaged people. Her efforts challenged age discrimination for older adults, encouraged opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, and advanced women’s equality,” the Center states.
“Above all, she devoted herself to improving treatment and services for those coping with mental health conditions, a cause she adopted when her husband was governor and that remained her priority for the rest of her life,” the Center says.