Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Share Secrets to 75-year Marriage

Jimmy Carter admits that when he was 21 years old, marrying his sweetheart, Rosalynn Smith, 18, was not a sure thing.”When I asked Rosalynn to marry me for the first time, she said no,” Carter told members of the media during a 2019 press conference at a Habitat for Humanity site in Nashville, Tennessee.But Carter, then attending the U.S. Naval Academy, didn’t take no for an answer, and his persistence paid off.The Carters wed on July 7, 1946, in their hometown of Plains, Georgia, months after they started dating.But their first meeting was much earlier.”They actually met 93 years ago, just a couple of days after Rosalynn Smith was born,” says author and Carter biographer Jonathan Alter. “She was delivered by Jimmy Carter’s mother, who was a nurse, and a couple of days after the baby was born, the nurse, Jimmy’s mother, Miss Lillian Carter, brought her 3-year-old son over to see the baby.”While they have known each other for most of their lives, the former president says one of the secrets to their now 75-year marriage is … space.”We’ve had a kind of policy on which we’ve agreed,” Carter says. “We give each other plenty of space to do our own things. And we try to find things we like to do together, and we try to concentrate on them. We took up downhill skiing when I was 62 years old. She was 59. We’ve taken up bird-watching and playing tennis and fly-fishing. So we’ve got a lot of common things we do together.”While that policy doesn’t always ensure they’ll avoid disagreements, when they don’t see eye to eye, it’s only short term, he says.FILE – Former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter are seen ahead of an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals, Sept. 30, 2018, in Atlanta.”We try to make sure we never go to sleep at night angry at each other,” Carter explains, showing his characteristic grin. “We get angry often, but we try to get over it before we go to sleep.””Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have the most successful partnership in the history of the American presidency,” says Alter, who documented their relationship in his 2020 book His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life. Alter believes Carter might not have been president had it not been for Rosalynn’s help on the campaign trail in 1976. “Rosalynn is the more shrewd of the two politically,” he says.Before an audience at a 2019 town hall at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter fielded a question about households divided by politics.”What if the husband and wife had a different feeling about politics? I think they would fight a lot,” Rosalynn Carter said to applause and laughter from the crowd.”Luckily, Rosalynn and I have agreed most of the time,” Jimmy Carter interjected amid the laughter. “Particularly in 1976!”Alter says not only is the Carter relationship historic, but it is also unprecedented.”Because Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter had such a close, personal relationship inside their marriage,” Alter told VOA during a recent Skype interview, “closer by a lot than Eleanor and Franklin (Roosevelt) or Bill and Hillary (Clinton). This gave Rosalynn Carter unparalleled influence over her husband’s decisions. We never saw anything like it before Jimmy Carter was president, and we haven’t seen it since.”FILE – Former first lady Rosalynn Carter arrives with husband former President Jimmy Carter, left, for an annual Carter Town Hall held at Emory University Sept. 18, 2019, in Atlanta.”I could advise him, and I think that’s what developed our relationship,” Rosalynn Carter said during an exclusive VOA interview in 2015. “We grew to respect each other — I respect what he could do, and he would respect what I could do. And from then on, it’s been a very wonderful partnership.”Since leaving the White House in 1981, the Carters, through their nonprofit Carter Center, have traveled the world fighting neglected diseases, promoting democracy and providing support to those suffering from mental health issues.While the work they championed for decades continues, the nonagenarian couple have suffered health setbacks in recent years and now stay close to home in Plains, Georgia, where they are celebrating their 75th anniversary with several hundred family members and friends.”They could live any place in the world they wanted,” says Carter family friend and Plains neighbor Jill Stuckey. “A lot of presidents have moved from their home, but they’re safe here. We take care of them, we love them, and they know that, and they just love getting out and walking the streets of their hometown as they have done since they were kids.”It is also the hometown where they will one day permanently rest, together, at a burial site near their favorite fishing pond.  

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