PLAINS, Ga. - Former President Jimmy Carter and human rights figure and mental health advocate Rosalynn Carter are celebrating 76 years of love and marriage Thursday.
Seventy-six years ago today a U.S. Navy midshipman from Plains, Georgia, exchanged vows with a woman he'd met and fell in love with a one year earlier. Little did they both know that their marriage would become the longest of any presidential couple.
The two met in Georgia when Jimmy Carter, at the time a young midshipman, was home from the U.S. Navy Academy. His younger sister set him up on a date with Rosalynn, who was a family friend who already had a crush on the future Georgia governor and U.S. president.
At their 75th anniversary celebration, Rosalynn Carter recounted how she didn’t care for dating young men while growing up and never thought she’d get married.
"I didn’t know how to talk to them, I didn’t want to go out with them," she said. She added that she used to urge her mother to tell suitors calling for her on the phone that she wasn’t around.
The Carters were married in 1946. Jimmy Carter resigned from his military career in 1953 after the death of his father, James Earl Carter Sr.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were married in Plains, Georgia on July 7, 1946. (The Carter Library and Museum)
"We developed a partnership when we were working in the farm supply business, and it continued when Jimmy got involved in politics," Rosalynn Carter said. "I knew more on paper about the business than he did. He would take my advice about things."
After taking over his family's farm, Jimmy Carter emerged as a community leader and won a bid for a seat in the Georgia Senate in 1962.
That was the beginning of a political career that led him to the governor's mansion in 1971, and then the White House in 1976.
Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, talk on the telephone after his victory in the Pennsylvania Primary election on April 27, 1976. (Photo by Mikki Ansin/Getty Images)
During her husband's administration, Rosalynn Carter became an esteemed advocate of mental health. She was active as the honorary chair of the President's Commission on Mental Health, which helped pass the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980. The law outlined rights for mental health patients to receive the protection and services they require and placed emphasis on the mental health needs of minority populations.
Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, but Rosalynn has said the trail made the couple stronger.
"I love it. I love campaigning," she told the AP. "I had the best time. I was in all the states in the United States. I campaigned solid every day the last time we ran."
The couple's humanitarian efforts continued after their White House residency. 1982, the co-founded founded The Carter Center, an organization dedicated to educating the public and furthering human rights initiatives.
Within the past few years, the pair have battled through health scares, but have been in reasonably good health for a couple in their 90s. They self-isolated through the COVID-19 pandemic and got vaccinated as soon as they were eligible. This allowed the couple to return to one of their favorite activities together: church.
In late February of 2021, the Carters sat in their usual spot inside Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, both wearing masks. The Carters have been known to preach at the church.
"Every day there needs to be reconciliation and communication between the two spouses," the former president said. "We don’t go to sleep with some remaining differences between us."
While sidelined due to the pandemic, both remain active working with Habitat for Humanity and various activist causes and philanthropy through the Carter Center.
"Jimmy and I are always looking for things to do together," Mrs. Carter said, adding that it is also important for each of them to have "some space".
The couple also remains big supporters of the home teams like the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks. The pair was even caught a few years back on the Hawks' "Kiss Cam" twice which took the internet by storm both times.
According to the Jimmy Carter Library, on his 75th birthday, Carter was asked to name the most important thing he had ever done. His reply: "Marrying Rosalynn."
"Every day there needs to be reconciliation and communication between the two spouses," the former president said in a recent interview.
The Carter Center has not released how the couple will be celebrating this year. Last year,
The Associated Press contributed to this report