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Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: A love story for the ages

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter grew up in Plains, Georgia, and were neighbors. As a nurse, Jimmy's mom helped deliver Rosalynn when she was born.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: A love story for the ages
Posted at 7:09 AM, Nov 20, 2023

Former first lady Rosalynn and President Jimmy Carter were married for 77 years — but they've known each other much longer than that.  

Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Smith grew up in Plains, Georgia, and were neighbors. 

Jimmy's mom, Lillian, was a registered nurse who helped deliver Rosalynn, and when Jimmy was only 3, she brought him to visit the "new kid on the block."

The longest-married couple in U.S. presidential history, the two went on their first date in 1945. 

Jimmy was home for the summer from attending the U.S. naval academy in his final year of college and had plans to marry another girl, but those fell through and then he took 17-year-old Rosalynn on a date.

Twenty-year-old Jimmy stole a kiss from her on their first date and told his mom he wanted to marry her. 

When he proposed to Rosalynn, she turned him down; she had promised her father she would finish college before tying the knot.  

But Jimmy eventually won her heart, and they married in July of 1946 after Rosalynn graduated from Georgia Southwestern College. 

Rosalynn helped Jimmy win the governorship of Georgia in 1970, and then decided to focus on mental health as the Peach State’s first lady.

SEE MORE: Former first lady Rosalynn Carter dead at 96

In an interview with Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas for their book "What Makes a Marriage Last," Jimmy said he felt compatible with her, she was beautiful and innocent and there was a resonance. 

In a poem from his 1995 book "Always a Reckoning," Jimmy said, "I'd pay to sit behind her, blind to what was on the screen, and watch the image flicker on her hair." 

Rosalynn also helped campaign for Jimmy when he ran for president in 1976, which he won against Gerald Ford. During their years in the White House, Rosalynn says they ate lunch together every Wednesday in the Oval Office to discuss personal finances, their children and the issues they cared about. 

After leaving the White House in 1981, the two contributed to the expansion of the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity and also founded The Carter Center, a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization working on world peace, fighting disease and building hope.

Both received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999. 

The couple have four children and 22 grand- and great-grandchildren.

The Carters returned to Plains and were active members of the Maranatha Baptist Church, where they taught Sunday school. 

When asked which of his accomplishments he was most proud of, President Carter said that marrying Rosalynn was "the pinnacle of my life."

In her book "First Lady From Plains," Rosalynn said she acted as a sounding board for her husband. When critics said she was too powerful and rumors were circulating that she was telling Jimmy what to do, she said, "They didn't know Jimmy. We always worked side-by-side." 

Rosalynn Carter passed away peacefully Sunday at the couple's home that they built together in Plains in 1961. Family members said it was in that home where the couple watched Atlanta Braves games together, held hands every day, and where they famously ate their favorite peanut butter ice cream.  

It was truly a love story for the ages. 

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