He was the leader of the free world for four years, but for former President Jimmy Carter, the “pinnacle of his life” was when he married his childhood sweetheart, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
“The best thing I ever did was marrying Rosa,” Jimmy said in 2015, shortly after the couple celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary.
When they rang in their 73rd anniversary on July 7, 2019, Jimmy and Rosalynn broke the record for the longest presidential marriage in history. Since then, they've topped their own record by four years, celebrating their 77th anniversary in July 2023.
Congratulations to Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter. They are now the longest married presidential couple and still going strong at 26,765 days! pic.twitter.com/nbdRYk932J
— The Carter Center (@CarterCenter) October 17, 2019
The former president still remembers meeting his first lady like it was yesterday.
It was the summer of 1945, and Jimmy, then a young naval officer-in-training, had returned to his hometown of Plains, Georgia, for the summer. As he drove down Main Street one day, he spotted shy, 17-year-old Rosalynn and immediately pulled over to ask her to the movies.
After their first date, he told his mother there wasn't a doubt in his mind that Rosalynn would one day be his wife. "I knew that she was quiet, she was extremely intelligent... beautiful," he recalled on Oprah, blushing. "There was just something about her that was irresistible."
Jimmy proposed to Rosalynn less than a year later, but she wasn’t ready so she refused his offer. During his second proposal, Jimmy presented Rosalynn with a compact that was engraved with the acronym “ILYTG.”
“‘I love you the goodest.’ That’s what my mother and daddy used to say back and forth, and I picked it up with Rosa,” the nation’s 39th president told People in 2014.
This time, Rosalynn said yes and the two were married on July 7, 1946. Together, they had four kids (Jack, 76, James, 73, Donnel, 71, and Amy, 55) and many more grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In past interviews, the former first lady attributed their long, happy marriage to mutual respect and the ability to give each other space.
“He lets me do things I am interested in, and I let him do things he’s interested in,” Rosalynn told Parade in 2013.
Of course, they also had shared interests, including helping build homes for Habitat for Humanity and going on outdoor adventures.
“One nice thing about him is he thinks I can do anything,” Rosalynn told People in 2014. “So I’ve done many things that I never would have, like downhill skiing at age 59.”
That appetite for adventure was balanced by a loving routine: In that same 2014 interview, Jimmy said that he and his wife read the Bible to each other—in Spanish—every night before bed, a tradition they had started 40 years earlier and "never missed a night.”
In 2023, the two have faced many new milestones. In February, Jimmy, now 98, shared his decision to transition to hospice care at home. In May, the family announced that Rosalynn, now 96, has dementia, though "she still knows who we are, for the most part — that we are family," grandson Josh Carter told People.
Now in their final chapter, the couple continues to embrace life as they always have: together in their Plains, Georgia, home, surrounded by loved ones.
"They are still holding hands," Josh said. "It's just amazing."
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