As a girl in tiny Plains, Georgia, Rosalynn Smith met a boy by the name of Jimmy Carter. He lived in Plains, too, the son of a peanut farmer. Decades later Jimmy became President of the United States, and she became she his First Lady.
Jimmy Carter, 90, cut short his election-monitoring trip in Guyana on Sunday because of sudden illness and went back home to Georgia, putting a de facto death watch into effect for the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Rosalynn is 87 and has stood by her man for 69 years.
Here’s what you need to know about Eleanor Rosalynn Smith Carter:
1. As a Girl She Was Diagnosed With a Developmental Disability
That’s why as First Lady of Georgia — a 1946 Georgia Southwestern University graduate — made it her mission to overhaul the state’s mental and health system. According to firstladies.org:
“As First Lady of Georgia, Rosalynn Carter not only assumed the traditional role of a governor’s spouse as hostess, she oversaw the landscaping of the grounds, authored a book about the governor’s mansion, and took responsibility for the financial accounting of the operations there. Her primary focus, however, was in overhauling the state’s mental health system. First exposed to an individual with a developmental disability as a young girl, and then made aware of how the state dealt with aid to those with mental and physical disability during the 1970 campaign, Rosalynn Carter committed herself to the issue. As a member of the Governor’s Commission to Improve Services to the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped in 1971, she continued to keep the issue in front of the state government and subsequently oversaw the initiation of reforms that more directly provided state services to those citizens who required aid. She also served as Honorary Chairperson of the Georgia Special Olympics from 1971 to 1975 and volunteered at an Atlanta hospital. All these activities provided Rosalynn Carter with a professional background on bridging legislative solutions to the issues facing the mentally ill.”
2. She Married Jimmy Carter at the Age of 18
They met as kids in Plains but lost touch until a friend introduced them again.
Here’s how firstladies.org describes the earliest hours of their courting:
18 years old; on July 7, 1946 at the Plains Methodist Church, Plains, Georgia, to James Earl “Jimmy” Carter (born October 1, 1924, Plains, Georgia), recent Annapolis Naval Academy graduate; Rosalynn Smith and Jimmy Carter met through her friend, his sister, Ruth Carter; Rosalynn Smith refused Carter’s initial marriage proposal of December 1945, considering it too soon in their dating, but accepted his second proposal two months later; as a navy engineer and commissioned officer, Carter’s career dictated the life and location of his new wife and their subsequent children, who followed him from base to base; for the first seven years of the marriage, they lived in Norfolk, Virginia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New London, Connecticut, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, San Diego, California, and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
3. Rosalynn Was Known as the “Steel Magnolia”
The video shows Rosalynn during a 60 Minutes interview from ’77. She tells Morley Safer about the doubts she had of Jimmy becoming president.
4. Her Name Is on the Rosalynn Carter Institute For Caregiving
Here is the mission and philosophy of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving:
The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving establishes local, state and national partnerships committed to building quality,long-term, home and community-based services. We believe this begins with providing caregivers with effective supports to promote caregiver health, skills and resilience. We also believe strongly in the need to provide greater recognition for professional and family caregivers. We focus on helping caregivers coping with chronic illness and disability across the lifespan.
5. She Campaigned for Her Son “Jack”
Jimmy and Rosalynn have four kids — John, James, Donnel, and Amy — and in 2006 she helped John (or “Jack”) during his run for U.S. Senate out of Nevada. He lost to incumbent Republican John Ensign.
The former president and first lady also have eight grandkids: Jason, James Earl, Hugo, Margaret, Sarah, Joshua, James, and Jeremy.
Rosalynn’s net worth is $10 million.