PLAINS, Ga. — This love story begins in Plains, Georgia. That’s where Former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn would meet. They were both born and raised in a small farming town, just miles apart from one another and their love story would last a lifetime. On July 7, 2023, the couple celebrated 77 years in their love journey.
As Eleanor Rosalynn Smith would later describe in her memoir ‘First Lady from Plains,’ “Jimmy and I grew up three years and three miles apart.”
They would return to Plains throughout their career and settle there later in life.
“We do a lot of things, go a lot of places, but Plains is home, and we always come home,” Rosalynn said in the book.
After Jimmy proposed for a second time, Rosalynn accepted and the two were married on a warm Southern summer day, July 7, 1946. There wasn’t a ton of fuss, no invitations or anything like that. He was 21, she was 18 and they were in love. Rosalynn reportedly refused the first proposal and promised her father, on his deathbed, to finish college at Georgia Southwestern before getting married.
On their wedding day, Rosalynn said Jimmy picked her up from her parent’s home to drive to the church together. She wore a short dress, opting for a corsage in lieu of a bouquet. He wore his white Navy Uniform. They walked into the church and down the aisle hand-in-hand, when they emerged, they were man and wife.
The couple mainly spent their first married years in Norfolk, Virginia. Jimmy was in the Navy and assigned to the USS Wyoming. The day before Independence Day in 1947, they had their first son, John Williams, who they named after Rosalynn’s grandfather. In 1950 while stationed in Hawaii, James Earl III was born and named after Jimmy and his father, James Earl Sr. Two years later, Donnell Jeffrey became their third boy. It would be 15 years before they had their only baby girl, Amy Lynn in 1967.
Throughout Jimmy’s journey to Georgia’s Governor’s Mansion and eventually the White House, the Carter’s love story would season, and their family grew. The Carters have three granddaughters, nine grandsons – one who died – and more than a dozen great-grandchildren. In a conversation with reporters in 2015, Jimmy said they have “a good and harmonious family.”
And on that journey in politics and the philanthropy and activism that would follow, the Carters were one. In speeches, Jimmy nearly always wrote “Rosalynn and I” when talking about their work on the ground in developing nations and here at home. They raised Amy together in the White House and Rosalynn would become a confidant to the most powerful man in the world.
In an op-ed published in 1996, Jimmy described her as a “key player in political strategy meetings.”
He said, “I shared almost all problems and questions with Rosalynn. In fact, we met in the Oval Office for regular weekly luncheons devoted exclusively to public affairs.”
When they left the White House, the couple began to write books and established The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, and The Carter Center in Atlanta. One experience in their marriage nearly ended it. When the couple co-authored the book ‘Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life’ Jimmy said writing that book “almost broke up a 40-year marriage.”
“It was amazing to find how differently we remembered the important events of our lives together, and how differently we reacted to them. As the writing progressed, we couldn't speak to each other about the book, and could communicate only by writing vituperative notes back and forth on our word processors,” he said in a speech in 1995.
Their marriage survived the book.