Rosalynn Carter was more Eleanor Roosevelt or Hillary Clinton than she was Laura Bush or Melania Trump. She was an active participant in Jimmy Carter's administration, even attending cabinet meetings. She maintained an office in the West Wing of the White House, something no other first lady had done. She had just moved to hospice care at home and died yesterday at 96. The Carters were married 77 years, the longest presidential marriage in history.
The former first lady worked hard on a number of issues, including mental health, elder care, and the Equal Rights Amendment. However, she opposed abortion on religious grounds. She accomplished many things in her career. She was the driving force for making Walter Mondale her husband's running mate in 1976. She helped arrange the Camp David meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat in 1978. She was more political than her husband and encouraged him to put off controversial topics like the Panama Canal until his second term, which never happened, of course. She didn't always get her way with Jimmy, of course, but she was tough enough to have acquired the nickname the "Steel Magnolia." She was more upset when he lost in 1980 than he was.
Rosalynn and Jimmy were married on July 7, 1946. He was 21, she was not quite 19. For the next 7 years, she followed to wherever the Navy sent the young naval officer. Eventually he became a submarine commander, but after his father died, Jimmy resigned from the Navy to go back to Plains, GA, to become a peanut farmer. Rosalynn hated that decision. When a drought hit and their crops failed, they made only $200 their first year back in Plains.
Jimmy later ran for the Georgia state Senate and then was elected governor of Georgia in 1970. Rosalynn played a large role behind the scenes and served on various commissions. When he ran for president in 1976, she campaigned for him for 18 months and in 42 states. Once they were in the White House she greatly expanded the role of the first lady and gained great power. A staffer once told Newsweek: "There are very few people in this administration that I fear. Rosalynn Carter is at the top of the list."
Carter's loss to Ronald Reagan was a bitter pill for Rosalynn to swallow. She said: "I'm bitter enough for the both of us." They went back to their home in Plains. Later they founded the Carter Center, where she continued her focus on mental health. She (co-)wrote five books, most of them about mental health. She also traveled around the world with her husband, promoting human rights and building houses for Habitat for Humanity. In 2018, the couple was asked if they wanted anything. Jimmy said: "I can't think of anything. And you?" She said: "No, I'm happy." Now Jimmy is alone, but probably, at 99, his widowerhood will be short. He wouldn't want to be long without her. (V)