Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, wife of former President Carter, died Sunday afternoon. She was 96.
“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” President Carter said in a 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 Carters marked their 77th wedding anniversary in July. As of 2021, their marriage became the longest for a first couple in U.S. history, surpassing former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush’s 73 years of marriage.
“Besides being a loving mother and extraordinary First Lady, my mother was a great humanitarian in her own right,” Chip Carter, her son, said in a statement. “Her life of service and compassion was an example for all Americans. She will be sorely missed not only by our family but by the many people who have better mental health care and access to resources for caregiving today.”
She is survived by her four children, 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, the center noted. Information about memorials and funeral services will be made available as soon as possible, the center said.
Rosalynn Carter was a longtime advocate for mental health issues. She was diagnosed with dementia in March, which the center said the family was hoping to help destigmatize.
As first lady, Rosalynn Carter was the honorary chair of the newly established President’s Commission on Mental Health and spearheaded the passage of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980. She held hearings across the country and testified before Congress, becoming the second first lady to do so, following former First lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Rosalynn Carter was an active participant in White House activities. She became the first first lady to have her own office in the East Wing. She also regularly sat in on Cabinet meetings and important briefings.
When the Carters returned home after their term in the White House, they founded the Carter Center, where Rosalynn Carter led an effort to destigmatize mental illness. She also worked with the ex-president to champion human rights and global health concerns.
Jason Carter, chair of The Carter Center’s Board of Trustees, marked the death of his grandmother in a statement sent by the center.
“One of the greatest legacies she leaves behind is The Carter Center, and her work there would not have been possible without you,” Jason Carter wrote. “She has been grateful for your support of her remarkable efforts to improve the welfare of people everywhere, whether by working to eradicate diseases, reducing the stigma of mental illnesses, or bringing peace to far corners of the world.”
Rosalynn Carter, née Smith, was the eldest of four children, born on Aug. 18, 1927. She was raised in Plains, Georgia, and her father, Wilburn Edgar Smith, died when she was 13 years old. Rosalynn Carter then helped her mother, Allethea Murray Smith, to take care of the other children as her mother worked to support the family.
She met Jimmy Carter when she was 17 years old.
Jimmy Carter told his mother after their first date, “She’s the girl I want to marry.”
Updated 4:45 p.m.