As is the custom down in the deep rural south, the residents of Plains Georgia call him “Mr. Jimmy” when referencing the 39th President of the United States, and today, his bride of 77 years, “Ms. Rosey,” passed away. Rosalynn Carter was 96 years young.
President Carter, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of melanoma in February and entered hospice care, will almost surely want to join her soon.
Far from shying away from the role of First Lady and really far from worrying about Vogue magazine, Mrs. Carter grabbed the Eleanor Roosevelt example and ran with it, playing a substantive, not ceremonial role in the White House.
As The Washington Post notes, she was only a few months into the role of First Lady when President Carter sent her to Latin America to explain American foreign policy to a part of the world that Jimmy Carter believed that the U.S. had largely ignored.
The Post writes:
“Her grueling trip took her to seven countries and across more than 12,000 miles in 13 days. Her mission was to explain American foreign policy to a part of the world that her husband believed the United States had neglected.
“She engaged Central and South American government figures on issues that included human rights, beef exports, arms reduction, demilitarization, drug trafficking and nuclear energy. After each day’s talks, she filed a report with the State Department. At many of her meetings, she spoke in Spanish, having recently completed an intensive language course.”
Just wow. And remember, this was at a point in time when women were not expected to play a consequential role in business, never mind government. Life magazine probably covered it, which Rosalynn cared far more about than fashion magazines. (Despite her undeniable beauty even at 90).
Way before the time when most Americans awoke to the issue, Mrs. Carter championed the need for mental health coverage and its value, back when the subject remained somewhat taboo to talk about. She desperately wanted to see the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment that has never been inserted into its obvious slot in the Constitution. Mrs. Carter’s deeply held religious views kept her morally opposed to abortion, but she never criticized the Roe v. Wade decision and accepted it as the law of the land. Put another way, she matched Joe Biden’s position on the issue.
And it was Rosalynn Carter who convinced her husband to do what turned out to be the most consequential achievement of his presidency. She encouraged President Carter to bring Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt here to the U.S. to work out an agreement rather than traveling to the region.
It was at the presidential retreat, Camp David, Md., where President Carter initiated the peace talks in 1978. Mrs. Carter split her time between Camp David and the White House, she provided support and advice as her husband brokered a historic peace agreement between the two nations, the Camp David Accords.
After the election, the Carters went straight back to the tiny town of Plains, Georgia, though Jimmy did teach at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, for a period, and both actually worked at the Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta.
No one will forget the pictures of Jimmy and Rosalyn working on Habit for Humanity houses into their 90s. In too many ways, the country wasn’t mature enough to appreciate this president and this first lady, so different than some others.
Jimmy Carter is nearly unanimously considered the best “ex-president” in history as he continued to labor for the United States as an ambassador, negotiator, and representative, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Rosalynn was always at his side and probably should have been named co-winner.
She will be missed as a national treasure and, perhaps just as importantly, she will be missed as a neighbor to their friends at their tiny church in their tiny town. She was, to the very end, a person who could stand as a giant on the world stage and fit just as naturally as the small-town neighbor who would open the door to let someone borrow an egg on a Sunday.
God blessed us with Rosalynn Carter, and may God now bless Mrs. Carter personally as she enters his arms.
This column is based in part on information from The Washington Post.
I can be reached at email@example.com and on “X” @JasonMiciak.
Editor’s note: This is an opinion column that solely reflects the opinions of the author.