Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter dies after family announced dementia battle

Rosalynn Carter, the ex-First Lady and spouse of the 39th President of the United States, passed away at her residence in Plains, Georgia, on Sunday, surrounded by her family, as reported by The Carter Center. At the age of 96, she succumbed to illness after being admitted to hospice care on Friday.

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” President Carter said. “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 is survived by her husband, her four children, 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith, born on August 18, 1927, in Plains, Georgia, was the eldest among Allethea Murray Smith and Wilburn Edgar Smith’s four children.

At the age of 13, her father passed away, leading her mother to become a dressmaker to contribute to the family’s finances. Rosalynn Carter, in turn, worked alongside her mother and played a role in caring for her younger siblings.

After completing high school, she enrolled in Georgia Southwestern College at Americus. In 1945, after her freshman year, she first dated Jimmy Carter, who was home from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. 

“She’s the girl I want to marry,” President Carter reportedly told his mother after his first date with Rosalynn Smith, who had grown up as a friend and neighbor of the Carter family in Plains. 

The couple married in July 1946. 

A biography attributed to the White House Historical Association highlights Carter’s “soft-spoken, amiable demeanor,” which rendered her “a persuasive advocate” for her husband.

During her tenure as the first lady of Georgia and subsequently the United States, Carter devoted extensive efforts to fostering what she termed “a more compassionate society,” as outlined in a biography by The Carter Center, the nonprofit organization she and Jimmy Carter established in 1982.

“An activist first lady with her own bold agenda, she created a distinct East Wing office from which she set about helping disadvantaged people. Her efforts challenged age discrimination for older adults, encouraged opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, and advanced women’s equality,” the Center states.

“Above all, she devoted herself to improving treatment and services for those coping with mental health conditions, a cause she adopted when her husband was governor and that remained her priority for the rest of her life,” the Center says.

Her family announced that Carter was diagnosed with dementia in May 2023. She spent her final days with her husband and family.

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Former first lady Rosalynn Carter dies at 96

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