Since Rosalynn Carter, 96, died November 19 and left Jimmy Carter without a hand to hold, friends say it’s “hard to imagine one without the other.”
When Rosalynn was born in 1927, Jimmy, 99, was there. In their 77 years of marriage, they traveled the world together as a military couple and as humanitarians.
When Jimmy entered home hospice care earlier this year, Rosalynn was there. And when a few months later it was announced Rosalynn had dementia, Jimmy was there.
On November 17, 2023, the two were in hospice care together.
Now, for the first time since Rosalynn was a teenager, Jimmy is without the woman he’s loved nearly a lifetime.
On August 18, 1927, a baby girl named Eleanor Rosalynn, or Rosalynn, was delivered to a woman named Frances Smith with the help of a friend, nurse Lillian Carter. The Carters and the Smiths were close family friends in the small town of Plains, Georgia, that at the time had a population of only 600 people, and their little ones would grow as friends.
Speaking earlier with People, biographer Jonathan Alter said three days after Rosalynn was born, Lillian took her 3-year-old son, Jimmy, into the hospital to visit the Smith’s new baby.
As toddlers they weren’t really friends and according to Alter, Rosalynn was close with Ruth, Jimmy’s younger sister, who was also one of the few other girls in town.
But when Rosalynn was about 18, she became smitten with Jimmy after seeing a photo of him in his United States Naval Academy uniform.
Soon after, when Jimmy returned home for the summer before his final year at the Naval Academy, he saw Rosalynn, and after their first date – a movie – it’s reported that he went home feeling he had met the woman he’d marry.
Dating long distance while Jimmy completed school, the young couple fell in love.
Soon after Jimmy graduated, he married the love of his life, who would be his biggest advocate both personally and professionally.
“She was a total partner to Jimmy in every way,” said Mahoney Robbins, who joined the former First Lady on campaign trips during Jimmy’s successful 1976 presidential bid.
Robbins also recalled that her husband’s defeat to Ronald Reagan in 1980 really beat her down. “She really broke down,” Robbins said. “She would say, ‘Why would the country do this to him?’”
On July 2023, Jimmy and Rosalynn celebrated their 77th wedding anniversary. The pair, who hold the record for the longest presidential marriage, also celebrated decades of international adoration for their humanitarian efforts, including as champions for mental health.
When asked about their secret to a successful marriage, Rosalynn suggested giving your spouse some space while also sharing hobbies, which she frequently practiced herself.
When she was 59, she started skiing so she could hit the slopes with Jimmy and into her 90s, she also worked with her husband on construction sites with Habitat for Humanity, building affordable homes for others.
The past decade was rife with illness but the two powered through.
In 2015, when Jimmy, then 90, was battling life-threatening cancer, Rosalynn was his source of strength, seeing him through to a miraculous recovery.
And when Rosalynn was 90, she needed major surgery to remove a large part of her colon. Due to her advanced age, Jimmy was warned by the surgeon that it was a risky procedure. The 93-year-old man stayed in the hospital, and awake all through the night, he prayed for her.
When sunrise came and Jimmy learned Rosalynn survived, he called his grandson, Jason.
“It was 6 a.m. He said he wanted to go home and spend the rest of his time with her,” Jason Carter tells the Washington Post. “That was the moment he truly retired; he said no more executive meetings at the Carter Center. He just wanted to be with her.”
As their health declined over the years, the two lovebirds were often each other’s caregivers, alternating roles depending on who needed it most.
After her colon surgery, Jimmy would bring her treats and rub her toes.
“He actually was a very good nurse,” said Jill Stuckey, a family friend in Plains.
In February 2023, when Jimmy entered hospice, he terminated medical treatment at the hospital because, as reported by the Washington Post, “he said the trips away were too hard on Rosalynn. He wanted them to be together.”
Hand in hand
Towards the end, Jimmy and Rosalynn spent their days in their living room, sharing blueberries in the morning and watching Law and Order at night.
Jimmy would be seated in his brown recliner and Rosalynn on the sofa, “close enough to lay her hand on his,” writes the Washington Post.
Rosalynn was last seen two months ago, right before Jimmy’s 99th birthday, at the annual Plains Peanut Festival in their hometown. From the back of an SUV driven by a Secret Service agent, she waved to the crowd with one hand, while holding her husband’s hand with the other.
Earlier In May, the public learned of Rosalynn’s dementia diagnosis. And on November 17, 2023, the Carter family revealed that Rosalynn had entered at-home hospice care, spending her final days surrounded by loved ones, including former President Jimmy Carter.
According to family, Rosalynn was comforted by seeing from the front door of her Plains home, the grassy grounds where she and Jimmy would rest.
“They were at peace with what was coming,” said Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who visited them in their home earlier this year.
Family members say that Rosalynn, who earlier was still able to get around with the help of a walker, had lost a significant amount of weight and had become frail in her final days.
“Time just caught up with her,” her niece, Kim Fuller, told the Washington Post. “She was getting more and more weak.”
But they still found some strength to hold the other’s hand. “They were never far from each other,” Fuller added.
“It’s hard to imagine one without the other,” said Stuckey, who spent many days with the two.
Speaking of his last visit, Young shares the three friends prayed together: “They seemed so happy to be with each other,” he said, adding that Rosalynn was quiet, while Jimmy just smiled.
Following his wife’s death, Jimmy released an emotional statement.
“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” he writes. “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.”
Rest in Peace, Rosalynn. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Carter family and to former President Carter, whose heart no doubt is in pieces right now.
Please share this story and let’s send a lot of love to Jimmy Carter!
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