Former US first lady Rosalynn Carter dies at 96

Former US first lady Rosalynn Carter dies at 96

World

Rosalynn Carter died with her family by her side

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Georgia, US (Reuters) - Former U.S. first lady Rosalynn Carter, who President Jimmy Carter called "an extension of myself" owing to his wife's prominent role in his administration even as she tirelessly promoted the cause of mental health, died on Sunday at age 96, the Carter Center said.

Rosalynn Carter, who in recent days had entered hospice care at home in Plains, Georgia, died with her family by her side, according to a statement released by the Carter Center, a nonprofit organization founded by the couple.

Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, served as president from 1977 to 1981. He and his wife were the longest-married U.S. presidential couple, having wed in 1946 when he was 21 and she was 18.

After his single term as president ended, he has also enjoyed more post-White House years than any president before him, and she played an instrumental role during those years, including as part of the Carter Center and the Habitat for Humanity charity.

Her family in May disclosed that she had dementia but was continuing to live at home. Jimmy Carter, 99, himself is in hospice care after deciding in February to decline additional medical intervention.

"Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished," the former president said in the 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."

She was seen as unassuming and quiet before coming to Washington in 1977 but developed into an eloquent speaker, campaigner and activist. Her abiding passion, which carried far beyond her White House years, was for the mentally ill, not because of any personal connection but because of a strong feeling that advocacy was needed.

"The best thing I ever did was marry Rosalynn," Carter told the C-SPAN cable TV channel in 2015. "That's the pinnacle of my life."

Before her husband was elected president in 1976, Rosalynn was largely unknown outside of Georgia, where he had been a peanut farmer-turned-governor. He lost his 1980 re-election bid to Ronald Reagan, a Republican former California governor and Hollywood actor.

In Washington, the Carters were a team, with the president calling her "an extension of myself" and "my closest adviser." She was often invited to sit in as an observer at cabinet meetings and political strategy discussions. In a 1978 interview with magazine editors, Carter said he shared almost everything with his wife except top-secret material.

"I think she understands the consciousness of the American people and their attitudes perhaps better than do I," he said.

She also was sent on important official missions to Latin America and was part of the unsuccessful campaign for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ensure equal treatment of women under the law.

The Iranian hostage crisis, in which American diplomats and others were held captive in Tehran after the Islamic revolution, occurred when Carter was seeking re-election. The crisis contributed to the downfall of his presidency as he refrained from campaigning while trying to resolve the standoff.

During that time, Rosalynn Carter sought to support her husband by speaking in 112 cities in 34 states during a 44-day tour. Her speeches and forays into crowds were credited with helping Carter defeat Democratic challenger Ted Kennedy in the 1980 primaries, although he went on to lose overwhelmingly to Reagan.

 

 




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