Mental health and humanitarian activist Rosalynn Carter, also former first lady, passes on at 96

Former US first lady Rosalynn Carter dies aged 96
Former US first lady Rosalynn Carter dies aged 96

The Carter Center announced the death of Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady who championed mental health reform and elevated the role of the president’s spouse, on Sunday. She was 96 years old and died at her home in Plains, Georgia, surrounded by her family.

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” said her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, in a 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.”

Rosalynn Carter had been in hospice care since Friday, after being diagnosed with dementia in May. Jimmy Carter, who also suffers from health issues, had started home hospice care in February.

Jimmy Carter served one term as president from 1977 to 1981, during which he brokered a historic peace treaty between Israel and Egypt that still holds today. However, his presidency was also plagued by economic woes and the Iran hostage crisis. Rosalynn Carter was his constant companion and adviser, often seen whispering in his ear.

The Carters transformed the post-presidency into a platform for global humanitarian work, through The Carter Center, a nongovernmental organization based in Atlanta that aims to “wage peace, fight disease and build hope.” They traveled to various conflict zones and developing countries, overseeing elections and combating diseases such as Guinea worm and river blindness. Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his efforts.

“The Carter Center is a shared legacy. She’s been there digging latrines right next to him,” said Jill Stuckey, a friend of the Carters and a leader at Maranatha Baptist Church, where the couple worshiped and where Jimmy Carter taught Sunday school.

Rosalynn Carter’s personal legacy lies in her advocacy for mental health and caregiving. She worked to reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental illnesses and to improve their access and quality of care. She also founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving at her alma mater, Georgia Southwestern State University, to support families and professionals who care for people with disabilities and chronic conditions.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to both Carters. He praised them for having “done more good things for more people in more places than any other couple on Earth.”

First lady Jill Biden, President Joe Biden, and former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush were among the many who paid tribute to Rosalynn Carter on Sunday, honoring her contributions to mental health, caregiving, and women’s rights, and expressing their condolences to the Carter family.