The Passing of Rosalynn Carter

Local author Bob Vickrey wrote about Rosalynn Carter:

I enjoyed my couple of days with Rosalynn back in the mid-80s when I escorted her around LA to media engagements and bookstore signings for her book First Lady from Plains.

She was an authentically sweet Southern woman and easy to be with. We really hit it off, but then again, I have a feeling that most people who met her would say the same thing.

No matter what your politics and how you judged her husband as President, the Carters have been a class act– especially with what they accomplished helping the underprivileged after their time in the White House. What they did after they left Washington may have actually been more important than the time they spent there.

Unfortunately, I seemed to have misplaced the picture of us taken during a bookstore appearance at Brentano’s in Beverly Hills.


First Lady Rosalynn Carter

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith Carter, was born August 18, 1927, and passed away on November 19. She was 96.

She married her husband, Jimmy Carter when she was 18 years old and the couple had four children, John William (Jack), James Earl “Chip”, Donnel Jeffrey “Jeff” and Amy Lynn.

Jimmy Carter assumed presidency in January 1977. When Carter became president, Rosalynn declared she had no interest in being a traditional first lady – and she wasn’t. She was passionate about mental health, caregiving and women’s rights.

Rosalynn sat in on Cabinet meetings. She was the First Lady to do so. Her interest in national policy prompted the New York Times’ Kandy Stroud to speculate that she might become the most activist First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.

Even as President Carter’s ratings sank, Rosalynn maintained high favorable viewpoints in the public, and was tied with Mother Theresa for most admired woman in the world.

During her speech as guest speaker at the 1979 Matrix Awards Luncheon of New York Women in Communications Inc., Carter said the issues she was championing were met with opposition because it wasn’t what First Ladies discussed.

She was one of the first public figures to champion mental health issues. In a March 1977 interview, she said her goals were “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.”

Rosalynn served as an active honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health.  On behalf of the Mental Health System Bill enacted in 1980, she testified before a Senate committee, making her the second First Lady to appear before Congress. Eleanor Roosevelt was the first.  Of Rosalynn’s priorities, mental health was the highest.

In 1982, she co-founded The Carter Center,  a private, nonprofit, based in Atlanta. The Center was established to promote peace and human rights worldwide. The first project was to broker a peace deal between Israel and its neighbors.

In April 1984, she became an Honorary Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and served as a board member emeritus of the National Mental Health Association.

A year later, she started the Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy. The success of the symposium led to the creation of the Mental Health Program in 1991. Carter established the Mental Health Task Force that same year to guide the Symposia as well as other Mental Health programs. In 2010, she criticized television crime dramas that portrayed mentally ill people as violent, when in fact they were more prone to being victims of crime.

After leaving the White House, she continued to partner with her husband and in 1999, they received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the nation’s highest civilian honor).

In 2001, Rosalynn was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls. She was the third First Lady to receive the award (joining Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt.)

Rosalynn received the Dorothea Dix Award (Mental Illness Foundation) in 1988. She received the Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged in 1996 and the Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health in 2000.

In 2009, she and Jimmy received the American Peace Award.

As late as 2015, she and her husband, traveled to Memphis and assisted in constructing a house for Habitat for Humanity. The President and Rosalynn donated time and leadership to build homes, starting in 1984.

Jimmy Carter said his wife was his equal partner and called her “a perfect extension of myself.”

When Rosalynn left Washington, she said, “”I love this city. I loved living here and being so close to the seat of power, being a part of the political system. When you watched television, you knew the people involved, you were familiar with both sides of the issues.”

In 2021 she reflected on her marriage and said that “everything with Jimmy Carter has been adventure.”

In a USA Today story (“Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Reflected on their Historic Marriage: ‘That’s the Pinnacle of My Life’”) the two explained their 77-year marriage. “We found out a long time ago that we needed to share everything. I gave her plenty of space,” Carter told the Washington Post. “She does what she wants to, and I do what I want to. But then we searched for things that we could together.”

“We’re always looking for things we can do together, like birding and fly-fishing and just anything we can find to do together,” Rosalynn Carter told PBS in 2021.

Rosalynn was a smart, shrewd woman, who wasn’t afraid to advocate for what she believed in. She also understood the value of a partnership.

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