Jimmy Carter’s love story is one for the ages. The former US President first met his wife when she was just a day old. Later, the pair began a life-long romance, partnership and friendship.
The couple were married for 77 years before Rosalynn Carter died on November 19, 2023 aged 96. Prior to her passing, Rosalynn had been battling dementia and was admitted to hospice care alongside her 99-year-old husband.
The former First Lady was farewelled in a funeral service on November 28, 2023 where her husband made his final moving tribute to his late wife by wearing a blanket with her face embroidered on it. That same day, The Carter Centre shared a poem Jimmy wrote for Rosalynn on Twitter from his 1995 book, Always a Reckoning.
“She’d smile, and birds would feel that they no longer had to sing, or it may be I failed to hear their song,” Jimmy writes in the poem.
Let’s look back on Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter’s love story, which started almost 100 years ago.
Few people can say that they met the love of their life at birth, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter can. The former first lady met her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, in a hospital room in Plains, Georgia when she was just one day old.
Rosalynn Carter was born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith in 1927 in small country town Plains in the state of Georgia. Midwife Lilian Carter – who also happened to be a family friend and neighbour – brought her three-year-old son Jimmy Carter in to meet the new arrival.
Despite this connection, Rosalynn and Jimmy didn’t become fast friends as children or teenagers. Instead, Rosalynn spent more time with Jimmy’s younger sister Ruth.
However, this changed when Rosalynn happened to spy a picture of Jimmy wearing his United States Naval Academy uniform.
“I spent a lot of time at that house, but he was always off at school,” Rosalynn told ABC later.
“He was so good to Ruth. He would write her letters, and she talked about him all the time. And she had his photograph on the wall in her bedroom. And I literally did fall in love with that photograph.”
When Jimmy returned for a short break from the Naval Academy, he ran into Rosalynn outside the local United Methodist Church; promptly asking her on a date to the movies.
“The moon was full in the sky, conversation came easy, and I was in love,” Rosalynn wrote in her memoir, First Lady from Plains.
Jimmy revealed years later that the night after the pair’s first date, he went home and told his mother he was going to marry Rosalynn.
However, that’s not where the love story ends. Jimmy had to go back to the Naval Academy and Rosalynn stayed in Plains. The pair would write to each other over the coming months as their relationship and love for one another blossomed.
The next time Rosalynn saw Jimmy he got down on one knee and proposed. She said no. Rosalynn later recalled she was too shocked to say yes. Also, she’d made a promise to her late father that she would finish her tertiary studies; something that may not have happened had she wed early.
Two agonising months would pass until Rosalynn saw Jimmy next. Luckily, he proposed again with a compact engraved with ‘ILYTG’ meaning ‘I love you the goodest’ – a phrase the pair would sign off their letters to one another with.
Just a few short months later, Jimmy and Rosalynn exchanged vows on July 7, 1946 in the beloved hometown. Rosalynn would follow her husband around the country whilst he served in the Navy until they eventually relocated back to Plains after the war.
Upon their return to the south, Jimmy’s aversion to racial segregation and other social issues sparked an interest in politics. This would eventually lead to his election as Georgia state senator in 1963.
Rosalynn and Jimmy not only had a strong friendship, but a strong professional partnership. The pair employed this as Jimmy embarked on his Georgia Governor campaign trail and ultimately his Presidential campaign in 1976.
“I love campaigning. I had the best time. I was in all the states in the United States. I campaigned solid every day the last time we ran,” Rosalynn reminisced to AP for their diamond anniversary story.
During Jimmy’s years as President of the United States, Rosalynn Carter played a quiet, yet instrumental role as First Lady. Rosalynn, who was intent on being fully informed of political happenings, would sit in on cabinet meetings.
“People underestimated her,” Gerald Rafshoon, communications director in the Carter White House, told the Washington Post. “She was really the eyes and the ears for Jimmy Carter. And she was the person we’d go to if we needed to turn Jimmy around on something.”
When Jimmy lost his second term, he and Rosalynn returned to Plains. There they co-founded the Carter Centre and threw themselves into a lifetime of humanitarian work.
Since then, Rosalynn and Jimmy remained committed to humanitarian work and public service, with Jimmy awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
At her husband’s 90th birthday in 2014, Rosalynn looked back on the life the two had built together. “Over the years, we became not only friends and lovers, but partners,” she said. “… “He has always thought I could do anything, and because of that, I/we have had some wonderful adventures and challenges.”
Similarly, Jimmy said of his record-breaking marriage: “The best thing I ever did was marrying Rosa. That’s the pinnacle of my life,” he said in 2015. “That’s the best thing that happened to me.”