At 12, Rosalynn Carter cared for her sick dad – her family returned the favor

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter‘s passing on November 19, 2023, was met with deep mourning from her supporters, friends, and, most profoundly, her family.

The 96-year-old wife of former president Jimmy Carter, who was known for her mental health and women’s rights advocacy, passed away peacefully at 2:10 pm in the couple’s Plains, Georgia home, according to the Carter Center.

She was married to Jimmy Carter, the country’s 39th president for 77 years.

Though, the distinguished author and activist understood the essence of being the “first” long before her role as the First Lady.

Rosalynn Carter and her husband Jimmy Carter pictured in New York City, 1983. Credit / Yvonne Hemsey / Liaison Agency / Getty,

In fact, as the eldest child in her family, she assumed the role of caregiver at the tender age of 12 when her father was diagnosed with leukemia. This early responsibility made her aware of the hardships and emotions associated with long-term caregiving, which meant it became an issue close to her heart.

While her mother worked to pay the family’s expenses, Rosalynn shouldered the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings, and also became her mother’s emotional support system.

“I’ve never forgotten how she — how we — struggled under the weight of long-term caregiving: not just physically and financially, but emotionally as well,” Rosalynn later said about that period of her life in an interview with Future of Personal Health.

Despite facing the loss of family members, including her father when she was 13 and her grandmother, Rosalynn’s love for caregiving continued. This passion became more and more prominent as she continued caring for her mother and various other relatives, eventually becoming the first person to organize a caregiver conference, addressing prevalent issues in caregiving.

Credit / Leigh Vogel / Getty.

Rosalynn’s caregiving journey, initially born out of duty, evolved into a profound passion. In her book, ‘Helping Yourself Help Others: A Book for Caregivers,’ she explained that caregiving should be viewed as both a challenging task and a blessing.

Rosalynn’s story takes a positive turn after enduring the stress and loss following her father’s death at age 13. Fate led her to Jimmy Carter, America’s 39th president, while he was on a holiday visit to his hometown. Their meeting marked the beginning of a long love story.

Recounting their first meeting, Rosalynn described the night when Jimmy, then a naval officer, asked her to go out with him. The moonlit encounter, filled with easy conversation and a first kiss on the way home, laid the foundation for their deep and enduring connection. In her memoir, ‘First Lady from Plains’, she wrote: “The moon was full in the sky, conversation came easy, and I was in love… and on the way home, he kissed me.”

Despite initial hesitations (and declining Jimmy’s first proposal), Rosalynn eventually agreed to be Jimmy’s bride, and they were married in July 1946. The couple juggled multiple careers, challenges, and parenthood as a united team. Their commitment to each other continued for almost eight decades, making them the longest-married presidential couple in US history.

Jimmy told the New York Times in 2021 that his partnership with Rosalynn was one of his greatest achievements, saying: “It’s been the best thing I’ve ever had happen to me — marrying Rosalynn and living together for so long.”

Rosalynn Carter, Jimmy Carter
Credit / Scott Cunningham / Getty.

Their love extended beyond their immediate family, encompassing a dedication to caregiving for over fifty years. Rosalynn and Jimmy’s commitment to charity and caring for strangers mirrored their approach to family life. Tragically, the Carter family faced a profound loss as Rosalynn passed away on November 19, 2023, at the age of 96, surrounded by her loved ones.

In her final days, Rosalynn, under hospice care due to her advancing dementia, continued to share precious moments with her family. While she survived her four children, 11 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren, the Carter family mourned the departure of their matriarch, cherishing the legacy of love and caregiving she leaves behind.

In her old age, the large Carter family returned the favor and cared for Rosalynn, especially after she was diagnosed with dementia and spent her last few days in hospital.

What an amazing life Rosalynn Carter led!


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