Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn's 77-year romance after he met her as a baby

How Jimmy Carter knew he was going to marry Rosalynn after their first date at the movies in 1945: Inside the 77-year marriage between soulmates who met when they were BABIES and endured everything together

  • Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn were family friends and met as kids in Georgia
  • The pair married in 1946 and spent 77 years together until her death
  • The soulmates had four children, and 25 grandchildren and great-grandchildren 

A decades-long love story has come to an end after Rosalynn, the wife of former U.S. president James ‘Jimmy’ Earl Carter Jr, died at the age of 96.

Rosalynn Carter said her final goodbye to beloved husband Jimmy, 99, and her family after she was moved into hospice care in Georgia this week.

The longest-married couple in U.S. presidential history, they met when Jimmy was just three years old and Rosalynn was a newborn, and celebrated their 77nd wedding anniversary on July 7, 2023.

Jimmy and Rosalynn shared a lifetime together and their romance stood the test of time, as well as the challenges of Navy deployments, a presidential campaign and his subsequent time in office. 

Post-presidency, Jimmy was utterly devoted to his wife. 

They pursued humanitarian projects together, helping construct or renovate more than 4,300 affordable homes across the world – one of the greatest charitable achievements of any past president. 

The couple first dated in 1945. The 20-year-old Jimmy was attending the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and stole a kiss from Rosalynn on their first date. He later told his mother he wanted to marry her.

A decades-long love story has come to an end after the wife of former U.S. president James ‘Jimmy’ Earl Carter Jr has died at the age of 96 

The Carters’ romance stood the test of time for 77 years. He’s seen here with Rosalynn during the Plains Peanut Festival September 2022

Rosalynn Carter is survived by her husband of 77 years, their four children, and 21 grandchildren and great-grandchildren

The pair were married just one year later, when Rosalynn was 18, and the late Jimmy told People in 2015 that marrying her was the ‘best thing I ever did,’ describing their partnership as the ‘pinnacle’ of his life.

Growing up in Plains, Georgia, Jimmy met Rosalynn when she was just one day old, and she became friends with his sister Ruth while growing up.

Their parents were neighbors, and Jimmy’s mother, Bessie Lillian Carter, helped deliver Rosalynn.

While Jimmy was home for the summer before starting his final year of college, plans with another girl had fallen through when he met 17-year-old Rosalynn and invited her to the movies.

‘I just felt compatible with her, she was beautiful and innocent, and there was a resonance,’ Jimmy told writers Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas for their book ‘What Makes A Marriage Last.’

‘We rode in the rumble seat of a Ford pickup — Ruth [Jimmy’s sister] and her boyfriend in the front — and I kissed her on that first date. I remember that vividly.’

In a poem from his 1995 book ‘Always a Reckoning,’ Jimmy recalled that first date at the movies, writing: ‘I’d pay to sit behind her, blind to what was on the screen, and watch the image flicker on her hair.’

It didn’t take long for the love-struck 20-year-old to determine that Rosalynn was a keeper and he proposed. She rejected him the first time, but he won her heart the following February.

The longest married couple in U.S. presidential history, who met when Jimmy was just three years old and Rosalynn was a newborn (pictured right), celebrated their 77nd wedding anniversary July 7, 2023

Rosalynn rejected his first proposal, telling Carter she’d promised her father she would finish college before marriage. They continued to write each other, however, when he went back to Annapolis, and by the next February, she accepted his proposal

The couple with their three sons, John William Carter, known as Jack, James Earl Carter III, known as Chip, and Donnel Jeffrey, known as Jeff, in the 1950s. Their daughter, Amy Lynn, was born in October 1967

A peanut-shaped float at the inauguration of Jimmy Carter in Washington, D.C., a nod to his background as a peanut farmer

Jimmy Carter is seen with his family in a portrait from 1976

Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter embraces his wife Rosalynn after receiving the final news of his victory in the national general election, November 2, 1976

Rosalynn, Amy and Jimmy Carter during one of his inaugural parties in 1977. Amy, the couple’s youngest child, was nine years old when her father became president

Presenting her with a compact engraved with ‘ILYTG’ an acronym for the Carter family’s motto, ‘I love you the goodest’ the pairing was to last for more than 70 years.

‘Now all our children do the same thing: ILYTG on the phone or in emails,’ Jimmy told People.

‘They generally just put the initials. And sometimes they change the initials and make you guess what they’re talking about.’

Just weeks before Jimmy graduated from the Naval academy, Jimmy and Rosalynn tied the knot on July 7, 1946, at Plains Methodist Church in their hometown.

The newlyweds moved to Norfolk, Virginia, shortly after their nuptials for the first of many Naval assignments that saw the Carters posted in California, Hawaii, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

Jimmy and Rosalynn had four children, and 25 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In 2018, their grandson Jeremy died of a suspected heart attack at the age of 28.

They welcomed their first child John ‘Jack’ William Carter on July 3, 1947, in Portsmouth, Virginia. Jack later served in the Vietnam War and ran for Senate in 2006.

Their second son, James ‘Chip’ Earl Carter, was born April 12, 1950, in Honolulu and their third son Donnel ‘Jeff’ Jeffrey Carter was born in New London, Connecticut, in August two years later.

Their fourth child and only daughter, Amy Lynn, was born October 1967 in the couple’s hometown Plains, Georgia, as he ventured into politics.

After the death of Jimmy’s father James Earl Carter Sr at the age of 58, from pancreatic cancer in 1953, the 33-year-old left the Navy and took on the family’s peanut farm.

Jimmy and Rosalynn hit their first roadblock following the decision to ‘uproot’ the family, and the former president said his wife didn’t speak to him for the entire drive from Schenectady, New York, to Plains – Rosalynn confessing to the New Yorker that she felt ‘resentful’ of the decision.

But, in hindsight, the move solidified the couple, and the eventual political career that followed.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter walk from the Capitol to the White House during his inauguration parade in 1977

Carter and his VP Walter Mondale accept the Democratic nomination for president at the party’s convention in New York City in 1976 with their wives, Rosalynn, left, and Joan, right

Rosalynn was devastated when Jimmy lost his re-election campaign to Ronald Reagan in 1980, with Jimmy recalling that she actually took the defeat harder than he did. The pair are seen with their daughter Amy in the Blue Room of the White House in 1977

Jimmy Carter holding his granddaughter Sarah, flanked by his wife Rosalynn and daughter Amy, at the Democratic National Convention

Carter returned to Plains, Georgia, after his term as president ended. He’s pictured with Amy and Rosalynn upon the family’s return in 1981

‘We developed a partnership when we were working in the farm supply business, and it continued when Jimmy got involved in politics,’ Rosalynn told the Associated Press.

‘I knew more on paper about the business than he did. He would take my advice about things.’

Jimmy was elected to the Georgia State Senate on November 5, 1962, following an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate.

He credited Rosalynn, who campaigned tirelessly for him, for the political successes and told Associated Press: ‘My wife is much more political.’

He won the Georgia state governor election on November 3, 1970, and upon his inauguration, Rosalynn began her work on destigmatizing mental illness as the state’s first lady.

‘Jimmy gave me the confidence to do things I was afraid of,’ Rosalynn said of her time as Georgia’s first lady to People.

‘I remember when we were in the Georgia governor’s mansion, I used to greet tourists and talk to everybody who came through.

‘One day, Jimmy told me I was going to have to make a speech. I was so nervous, and he said, “Why don’t you just do what you do at the governor’s mansion when you’re talking to the tourists?” So I made the speech with no problem, ran to the telephone and called Jimmy to say, “I did it!” I did it because I had to do it.’

Jimmy won the U.S. presidential election on November 2, 1976, thanks in part to Rosalynn’s determined campaign strategy, visiting 40 states and earning her the title of Jimmy’s ‘secret weapon.’

In 1976, she told People that she preferred campaigning solo for Jimmy.

‘We can reach twice as many people this way,’ she said.

‘I’ve made as many as 12 speeches a day in one community. I enjoy it. But sometimes I want to stop and wash my hair.’

Rosalynn was devastated when Jimmy lost his re-election campaign to Ronald Reagan on November 4, 1980, with Jimmy recalling that she actually took the defeat harder than he did.

‘I searched for good things about not being re-elected, to ease her pain,’ he said.

‘I was just 56 years old, I told her, and she was just 53, so we had at least 25 years of life ahead of us. That’s when The Carter Center was born. It has been a wonderful challenge.’

In 1984, Jimmy and Rosalynn, who’d previously worked with Habitat for Humanity in Georgia, rounded up volunteers for the New York chapter of the organization and went on to build houses all around the U.S.

It was their different passions, Rosalynn told People, that ensured their love lasted decades.

‘I’d say space [is the secret to a lasting marriage]. One of the hardest times was when we came home from the White House,’ she said.

‘It was the first time we’d been together in the house all day every day. So, I got my office in what was a bedroom, and his is in what was the garage.’

The couple also withstood several health scares, not least when they announced that Jimmy had liver cancer in August 12, 2015.

He underwent surgery to remove a small mass in his liver, surviving the ordeal, with family and friends saying they had no doubt that the couple can ‘get through this.’

In his book, ‘A Full Life,’ Carter noted that it took him running for office in 1962 for some of the dynamics in his marriage to Rosalynn to change, and Rosalynn became his ‘political partner’

After his presidency, the Carters started working with Habitat for Humanity, a Christian nonprofit that builds affordable houses for those in need

The Carters’ decades-long focus on humanitarian and diplomatic efforts earned Jimmy a Nobel Peace Prize. The pair are seen in Detroit in 2005 as they attended a Habitat for Humanity event

The former president and his wife said their long love was a product of time spent pursuing their own interests – but they would often spend time together, as seen here at the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals game in 2018

Carter wrote Rosalynn a poem which was posted to Facebook last year, speaking of how ‘she’d smile, and birds would feel that they no longer had to sing.’ He said that marrying Rosalynn was the ‘pinnacle of his life’

On December 6 that same year, Carter announced that his liver cancer was gone.

‘My most recent MRI brain scan did not reveal any signs of the original cancer spots nor any new ones,’ he said in a statement.

‘I will continue to receive regular 3-week immunotherapy treatments of pembrolizumab.’

In 2018, Jimmy and Rosalynn revealed what a day in the life was like for the pair.

The couple, who lived in the same two-bedroom home in Georgia that they’d occupied before he was elected president, would engage in separate activities in the morning but spend their evenings together.

‘He and Mrs Carter take walks, and they have followed a healthy diet for a lifetime,’ a Carter Center spokesperson said.

‘Both President and Mrs Carter are determined to use their influence for as long as they can to make the world a better place, and millions of the world’s poorest people are grateful for their resolve and heart.’

After surviving cancer and several other health setbacks, including a fall that required stitches, and a broken hip during a turkey hunt, Jimmy said that his marriage was part of why he had otherwise been in great health.

‘It’s hard to live until you’re 95 years old,’ he told People.

‘I think the best explanation for that is to marry the best spouse: someone who will take care of you and engage and do things to challenge you and keep you alive and interested in life.’

He added: ‘I think both mine and Rosa’s minds are almost as good as they used to be, we just have limited capability on stamina and strength. But we still try to stay busy and do a good job at what we do.’

‘Jimmy has always thought I could do anything,’ Rosalynn said in the book ‘What Makes a Marriage Last.’

‘Always – and so I’ve done everything. I campaigned all over the country. I’ve done things I never dreamed I could do.’

Days after their 74th wedding anniversary in July 2020, they posted selfies wearing face masks, urging their followers to stay safe to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The following year, the Carters marked 75 years of marriage with a tweet from the Carter Center.

‘#75YearsAgo today these two kids tied the knot and forged a bond that cannot be broken,’ it wrote, alongside a wedding photo of the couple. ‘They are now also the longest married presidential couple!’

Their grandson Jason Carter remarked of the big day: ‘The number of things that have to go right in your life to have a 75th anniversary, it’s a truly incredible milestone.’

Joe Biden,  80, is pictured with the Carters in April 2021

On August 9, 1999, President Bill Clinton awarded Carter and his wife with the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, at the Carter Center

Carter continued to put his foreign affair expertise to use, and ‘served as a freelance ambassador for a variety of international missions. He is pictured with Nelson Mandela in 2007

More than 300 friends and family members, including former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Ted Turner, celebrated the couple’s anniversary at a party the same year.

Jimmy quietly marked his 97th birthday at home with Rosalynn in Plains, Georgia, turning 98 in October last year, making him the oldest ever former U.S. president.

In honor of his birthday, The Carter Center, created an online bulletin board where well-wishers left messages of appreciation.

They celebrated their 77nd wedding anniversary this year. 

Rosalynn passed away at 2.10pm on Sunday, November 19. She died peacefully, with family by her side

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