Inside Former President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s Love Story

Inside Former President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s Love Story

On Sunday, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter passed away while in hospice care at the age of 96. 

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter — who resided in the White House from 1977 to 1981 — had a 77-year marriage filled with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, politics, mutual love and respect. 

In a statement after his wife’s passing, the former president beautifully stated how his wife and friend of nearly 100 years had been the guiding light of his life. 

“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.”

In honor of Rosalynn’s life, ET is looking back at the couple’s incredible love story — complete with a meeting just hours after Rosalynn was born — and their greatest accomplishments together. 

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Their First Meeting 

Just one day after Rosalynn was born in August 1927, a 3-year-old Jimmy Carter met his future wife. 

The Carters and the Smiths — Rosalynn’s family — lived next to each other in Plains, Georgia, and Jimmy Carter’s mother, Lillian Carter, delivered Rosalynn inside her family’s home, according to The Associated Press.

The next day, Jimmy visited the Smiths alongside his own mother and got a first look at the woman he would love for the next almost 100 years. 

“He looked through the cradle bars and saw me,” Rosalynn told The Washington Post in 2021.

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First Date In 1945 

Growing up next door to each other, the Carters and the Smiths became good friends over time. In fact, one of Rosalynn’s sisters was named Lillian after Carter’s mother. 

As a child and young teenager, Rosalynn also became good friends with Jimmy’s sister, Ruth. 

Like many great love stories, their friendship blossomed into something more when — as teenagers — they started to see each other in a romantic light. 

After finishing her first year of college Rosalynn and Jimmy, just 17 and 20 at the time, were home for the summer from their respective institutions. While driving around their town one day, Jimmy and a friend spotted Rosalynn — his sister’s best friend — outside of the Methodist Church. 

His own plans having recently fallen through, he invited her to a movie on the spot.

Rosalynn told The Washington Post by that time she had developed a bit of a crush on Jimmy, who she called a “worldly” midshipman in the U.S. Naval Academy. 

After their first date, they said they immediately knew. Jimmy was so confident that he told his mother he was going to marry Rosalynn. 

“I just felt compatible with her. She was beautiful and innocent, and there was a resonance,” Jimmy said for the book What Makes A Marriage Last. “We rode in the rumble seat of a Ford pickup — Ruth and her boyfriend in the front — and I kissed her on that first date. I remember that vividly.”

In Jimmy’s 1995 book, Always a Reckoning, he summarized his feelings about his wife in a poem that touched back on their first date.

“I’d pay to sit behind her, blind to what / was on the screen, and watch the image flicker / on her hair,” he wrote. 

Engagement and Marriage

After heading back to school, Jimmy was so sure of his decision that he popped the question to Rosalynn just months into dating. Still in school and focused on her studies, she turned him down. 

In May 1946, however, he once again asked and received a different answer. 

Upon getting engaged, Jimmy gave Rosalynn a compact engraved with “ILYTG,” an acronym the Carter family has adopted meaning, “I love you the goodest.”

Just two months later, the couple tied the knot at the Plains Methodist Church on July 7, 1946. 

After graduating from the Naval Academy, they moved to Norfolk, Virginia for Jimmy’s first assignment. Throughout his time with the Navy, Jimmy and Rosalynn moved to California, Hawaii, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. 

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Less than one year after getting hitched, the couple welcomed their first son, John William “Jack” Carter, on July 3, 1947. At the time, they were living in Portsmouth, Virginia. 

On April 12, 1950, Jimmy and Rosalynn’s second son, James Earl “Chip” Carter, was born in Honolulu, where Jimmy was stationed in the Navy. 

Jimmy and Rosalynn’s third son, Donnel Jeffrey “Jeff” Carter, was born in New London, Connecticut, on Aug. 18, 1952.

The couple’s one and only daughter, Amy Lynn Carter, was born on Oct. 19, 1967, in Plains, Georgia.

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Moving Home (Against Rosalynn’s Wishes) 

In 1953, prior to the birth of their daughter, Jimmy abruptly quit the Navy and declared that he, Rosalynn and their children were moving home to Georgia following the death of his father. 

James Earl Carter Sr. left behind the family’s farming and warehouse enterprise, which Jimmy wanted to take over, according to The Associated Press.

His opinions on their marriage later changed but he once told The Washington Post that in the early years, he was “the boss” in their relationship. 

“The first part of our life, I dominated everything, except the household, which Rosalynn ran,” Jimmy said.

Rosalynn once told The New Yorker she was “resentful” of her husband’s decision to completely uproot their family and move back home for a completely different lifestyle — so much so that she didn’t speak to him for the entire drive back to Georgia from New York where they had been stationed. 

After moving home, though, the pair worked together to keep their marriage and business thriving, which required Jimmy to see his wife as an equal life partner. He would later become a fierce advocate for women’s rights. 

“We developed a partnership when we were working in the farm supply business, and it continued when Jimmy got involved in politics,” Rosalynn said. “I knew more on paper about the business than he did. He would take my advice about things.”

Political Careers

Roughly 10 years after moving back to Georgia, Jimmy was elected to the Georgia State Senate on Nov. 5, 1962. 

Prior to his career win, he had run for U.S. Senate but was unsuccessful.

At the time, Jimmy veered credit to Rosalynn for his success in the run, saying, “My wife is much more political.” He also said he did not ask Rosalynn for permission to run but thought she wouldn’t mind. 

After serving from 1962 to 1967 in the Georgia State Senate, Carter ran for and won the election to become Georgia’s governor in 1970 — thanks in large part to Rosalynn. 

After becoming Georgia’s first lady, Rosalynn got to work on her passion for destigmatizing mental illness and raising awareness for mental health causes. 

“Jimmy gave me the confidence to do things I was afraid of,” Rosalynn once said of her time as Georgia’s first lady. 

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The White House

In 1976 — once again thanks to Rosalynn for being his “secret weapon” — Jimmy won the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 2. 

While campaigning, Rosalynn visited 40 states and said she had “the best time” campaigning for her husband. 

Later, their son, James, would say just how instrumental she was in helping forge Jimmy’s pathway to a win. 

“Dad started to change when he ran for governor, because Mom was a much better politician than he was,” he said. “She cared about him getting elected and reelected, and he cared about the Panama Canal.”

During his one-term presidency, Jimmy would often look to his wife as an advisor. He was even known to have Rosalynn sit in on cabinet meetings and discuss policies. 

For her part, Rosalynn continued furthering her mental health initiatives. 

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After the White House 

After losing his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan, the couple focused on continuing their humanitarian work in any way they could. 

Jimmy once said Rosalynn took the loss harder than he did, but that they worked together to advance their goals. 

“I searched for good things about not being reelected, to ease her pain,” he said. “I was just 56 years old, I told her, and she was just 53, so we had at least 25 years of life ahead of us. That’s when the Carter Center was born. It has been a wonderful challenge.” 

Outside of their nonprofit, the couple worked closely with Habitat For Humanity throughout their life and marriage, building homes all around the U.S. and the world. 

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Jimmy Carter’s Cancer and Health Issues 

In 2015, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter announced that the former president had undergone testing that revealed cancer of the liver that had spread to other parts of the body. 

Later that year, Jimmy told members of his church that an MRI showed he was cancer-free after months of treatment. 

In May 2019, Jimmy fell at home and broke his hip, requiring surgery. In October 2019, he fell twice more and required stitches in his forehead and suffered a fractured pelvis.

He later underwent surgery to relieve pressure on his brain from the falls. 

Despite the health issues, Jimmy shared his secret to living long, which he attributed to his wife. 

“It’s hard to live until you’re 95 years old,” he told People. “I think the best explanation for that is to marry the best spouse: someone who will take care of you and engage and do things to challenge you and keep you alive and interested in life. “I think both mine and Rosa’s minds are almost as good as they used to be, we just have limited capability on stamina and strength. But we still try to stay busy and do a good job at what we do.”

75 Year Mark

After getting back to church following their COVID-19 vaccinations, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter celebrated 75 years of marriage in July 2021. 

That same year, the couple shared the secret to their long-lasting union. 

“Every day there needs to be reconciliation,” Jimmy Carter said in 2021, according to The Associated Press. “We don’t go to sleep with some remaining differences between us.”

The other key to happiness? Having some time away from each other. 

“Each should have some space,” Rosalynn Carter said. “That’s really important.” 

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Hospice Care and Final Months

In February, the Carter family announced Jimmy would be requiring hospice care with the support of his loved ones and family. 

“Former US President Jimmy Carter today decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention,” a statement issued by The Carter Center read at the time. 

Several months later, the family announced that Rosalynn had been diagnosed with dementia but that she was still living “happily at home with her husband, enjoying spring in Plains and visits with loved ones.”

In their final months together, they were still at home and surrounded by their family and friends.

“I think the beautiful thing is that they are still together. They are still holding hands … it’s just amazing,” Josh Carter, their grandson, told People in August. “It’s clear we’re in the final chapter. They lived their lives to the fullest.”

On Nov. 17, the Carter Center announced that Rosalynn entered hospice care at their home in Plains, Georgia. 

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“[Rosalynn] and President Carter are spending time with each other and their family,” a statement read. “The Carter family continues to ask for privacy and remains grateful for the outpouring of love and support.”

Two days later, at the age of 96, Rosalynn passed away at their longtime home surrounded by her family and loved ones. 

“Besides being a loving mother and extraordinary First Lady, my mother was a great humanitarian in her own right,” said Chip Carter. “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.”

Rosalynn is survived by her husband, children — Jack, Chip, Jeff, and Amy – and 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.


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