Rosalynn Carter, Former First Lady And Advocate For Mental Health, Dies At 96

Rosalynn Carter, Former First Lady And Advocate For Mental Health, Dies At 96

The wife of former President Jimmy Carter was diagnosed with dementia earlier this year.

Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady of the United States and a staunch advocate for mental health, passed away on Nov. 19 at the age of 96. She died at her home in Plains, Georgia. The wife of former President Jimmy Carter was diagnosed with dementia earlier this year. It was announced on Nov. 17 that she was entering hospice care at her home. The Carter Center in Atlanta confirmed her death.

During her time as first lady from 1977 to 1981, Carter made significant contributions to the nation and her husband’s presidency. She was known for her determination and commitment to various causes, particularly mental health.

Born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith on Aug. 18, 1927, on a family farm outside Plains, Georgia, she grew up in a modest home. After marrying Jimmy Carter, the couple embarked on a life in the Navy. In 1953, when Jimmy’s father passed away, he left the Navy and returned to the family peanut business in Plains.

There, the Carters faced financial challenges and worked to turn their peanut business around. The Washington Post reported that Rosalynn handled the finances while Jimmy focused on attracting peanut farmers. When Jimmy decided to enter politics, again Rosalynn was by his side. She managed campaign correspondence during his early political campaigns, including his successful bid for the Georgia State Senate as a Democrat in 1962.

During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, Rosalynn became the first first lady to maintain an office in the White House’s East Wing. After Eleanor Roosevelt, she was the only first lady to testify before Congress. Her advocacy for mental health led to her involvement in the Governor’s Commission to Improve Service for the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped in Georgia. She helped establish 134 day-care centers for the mentally disabled, and volunteered at the Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta to gain firsthand experience with mental health issues.

In 1977, President Carter dispatched his wife on a diplomatic mission to Latin America—a groundbreaking departure from the traditional role of a first lady. Politico reported that she visited seven countries in 13 days to elucidate American foreign policy to a region of the world her husband believed had been overlooked by the United States. During her extensive tour, she met with prominent governmental figures in Central and South America, addressing a wide array of topics including human rights, arms reduction, demilitarization, and drug trafficking. She conversed fluently in Spanish, having taken an intensive language course before her trip.

Rosalynn Carter’s legacy extends beyond her time as first lady. She and the former president co-founded The Carter Center, a nonprofit organization based in Atlanta that focuses on human rights and alleviating suffering worldwide.

The Carters had been married for more than 77 years, the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history. The former president decided in February to stop medical treatment for an aggressive form of melanoma skin cancer.

Rosalynn is survived by her husband; daughter, Amy; three sons, John W. “Jack” Carter, James E. “Chip” Carter III, and Donnel J. “Jeff” Carter; 11 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

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