November 20, 2023

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Former US first lady Rosalynn Carter dies aged 96

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Rosalynn Carter, the wife of former US president Jimmy Carter, has died at the age of 96, leaving behind her husband of 77 years.

Her death was announced on Sunday afternoon by the Carter Center, the influential pro-democracy and human rights organisation she founded with her husband after he left the White House in 1981.

The Carter Center said she died “peacefully, with family by her side” at the home she shared with the former president in their hometown of Plains, Georgia. Her passing came just days after the Carter Center said she had entered hospice care at home, after being diagnosed with dementia.

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” President Carter, 99, said 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.”

In addition to being a fierce supporter of her husband, Rosalynn Carter was a prominent campaigner in her own right, known especially for her advocacy on mental health at a time when such issues were not often discussed in public.

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter working with Habitat for Humanity volunteers in 2018
Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter working with Habitat for Humanity volunteers in 2018 © Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune/AP

As first lady, she was a more visible figure and a more politically active presence in the White House than many of her predecessors, sitting in on cabinet meetings, attending National Security Council briefings and travelling to Latin America and other regions overseas as an official envoy of her husband.

Jimmy Carter, the longest-living president in US history, also entered hospice care at home in February of this year.

The 1977-81 Carter administration was widely regarded as a disappointment, marked by spiralling inflation and a hostage crisis in Iran. But in the decades after the 39th president left office, he won widespread admiration for his extensive humanitarian work at home and abroad.

He and Rosalynn became among the most prominent volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, the affordable housing charity, and Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 “for undertaking peace negotiations, campaigning for human rights and working for social welfare”.

Speaking to reporters before boarding Air Force One in Virginia on Sunday, US President Joe Biden called Rosalynn Carter a woman of “integrity” and said the Carters had “brought so much grace to the office” of president.

In a statement, Biden hailed her work championing equal rights for women, advocating for mental health and supporting “often unseen and uncompensated” caregivers of children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

In addition to her husband, Rosalynn Carter is survived by their four children, 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, the Carter Center said on Sunday.

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