Rosalynn Carter, the beloved wife of former President Jimmy Carter, has passed away, according to the Carter Center. Carter, 96, had suffered from dementia at the end of her life and had entered hospice care on Friday. She died Sunday at her home in Plains, GA and had her family by her side.
The former first lady remained one of the most influential women in the field of mental health discussions during her lifetime and had made a tremendous impact. She was also loved deeply by those closest to her. “Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” President Carter said, the Carter Center shared. “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.”
“Besides being a loving mother and extraordinary First Lady, my mother was a great humanitarian in her own right,” her son Chip Carter also said in a statement. “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.”
Carter is survived by her children, including Jack, Chip, Jeff, and Amy, and 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. She also had a grandson who died in 2015.
Carter’s passing came at 2:10pm after the Carter Center announced that she’d been diagnosed with dementia. The family released a statement on May 30, 2023. “The Carter family is sharing that former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has dementia. She continues to live happily at home with her husband, enjoying spring in Plains and visits with loved ones,” they said.
Her death also came after her husband had announced that he was receiving hospice care in February 2023. “After a series of short hospital stays, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter today decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention. He has the full support of his family and his medical team. The Carter family asks for privacy during this time and is grateful for the concern shown by his many admirers,” the Carter Center said in a statement.
Carter had no intention of being a traditional first lady, rather taking an active role in national politics and working on her passion: mental health advocacy. She was a force to be reckoned with, a fierce activist and an award-winning volunteer who stood by her husband for more than 70 years of marriage. When Jimmy Carter became Governor of Georgia in 1970, she forged her own path that led to a lifetime of service.
Carter was appointed to the Governor’s Commission to Improve Services for the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped and spent her time as Georgia’s first lady working with mentally disabled children — something she called her “proudest achievement” in 1982. She was also an honorary chairperson for the Georgia Special Olympics.
She brought that passion for mental health advocacy to the White House with her in 1977. While campaigning for her husband, Carter was elected to the board of directors of the National Association of Mental Health. During her first interview as first lady she spoke about her agenda: “For every person who needs mental health care to be able to receive it close to his home, and to remove the stigma from mental health care so people will be free to talk about it and seek help. It’s been taboo for so long to admit you had a mental health problem,” she told The New York Times.
Carter took an active role in politics, as well, even sitting in on some Cabinet meetings. She explained at the time that, “I was there to be informed so that when I traveled across the country, which I did a great deal, and was questioned by the press and other individuals about all areas of government, I’d know what was going on.” Carter was the first, first lady to have an office in the East Wing. She was integral in the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter were married in 1946, and are parents to their four children and grandparents to their 22 grandchildren as well as great grandparents to great grandchildren. Until the end, she served on the board of trustees for the Carter Center, the non-profit she and her husband founded in 1981 after leaving the White House. She continued her work with the mentally ill, founding the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) at Georgia Southwestern State University. She served as the president of the board of directors.