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Business News/ News / World/  Rosalynn Carter, US first lady known as ‘Steel Magnolia', dies at 96
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Rosalynn Carter, US first lady known as ‘Steel Magnolia', dies at 96

Former US First Lady Rosalynn Carter, known as the 'Steel Magnolia,' died at age 96. She played an integral role in her husband President Jimmy Carter's tenure and was a strong advocate for mental health.

Former US first Lady Rosalynn Carter died peacefully at her home in Plains, Georgia (via REUTERS)Premium
Former US first Lady Rosalynn Carter died peacefully at her home in Plains, Georgia (via REUTERS)

Former US First Lady Rosalynn Carter, whom President Jimmy Carter called "an extension of myself" primarily due to her leading role in his tenure even as she actively promoted the cause of mental health, died on Sunday at age 96, the Carter Center said, as per Reuters.

Her willpower and outwardly shy demeanor, and a soft Southern accent, inspired Washington reporters to call her “the Steel Magnolia."

According to a statement from the Carter Center, a nonprofit organization founded by the Carters, Rosalynn Carter, who recently entered hospice care at home in Plains, Georgia, died with her family by her side.

Democrat Jimmy Carter was president from 1977 to 1981. He and his wife were the longest-married U.S. presidential couple, having married in 1946 when he was 21 and she was 18. While he served one term as president, he also had more post-White House years than any president before, during which she played an integral role, including as part of the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity.

In May, her family disclosed that she had dementia but continued to live at home. As of February, Jimmy Carter, 99, has opted for hospice care after declining additional medical treatment.

"Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished," the former president said in the statement. "She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me."

In 1977, she came to Washington and was seen as unassuming and quiet before becoming an eloquent speaker, activist, and campaigner. The mentally ill were her abiding passion, which continued long after her tenure in the White House, not out of any personal connection but because she strongly believed that advocacy was needed.

"The best thing I ever did was marry Rosalynn," Carter told the C-SPAN cable TV channel in 2015. "That's the pinnacle of my life."

Before her husband was elected president in 1976, Rosalynn was largely unknown outside of Georgia, where he had been a peanut farmer-turned-governor. He lost his 1980 re-election bid to Ronald Reagan, a Republican former California governor and Hollywood actor.

In Washington, the Carters were a team, with the president calling her "an extension of myself" and "my closest adviser." She was often invited to sit in as an observer at cabinet meetings and political strategy discussions. In a 1978 interview with magazine editors, Carter said he shared almost everything with his wife except top-secret material.

"I think she understands the consciousness of the American people and their attitudes perhaps better than do I," he said.

Additionally, she participated in the unsuccessful campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ensure equal treatment of women under the law.

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In the aftermath of the Islamic revolution, American diplomats were held hostage in Tehran when Carter was seeking re-election. Because he refrained from campaigning while trying to resolve the standoff, the crisis contributed to his downfall.

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Rosalynn Carter spoke in 112 cities in 34 states during a 44-day tour to support her husband. Her speeches and forays into crowds were credited with helping Carter defeat Democratic challenger Ted Kennedy in the 1980 primaries, although he went on to lose overwhelmingly to Reagan.

Joe Biden, who was a senator during Carter's presidency, and Biden's wife, Jill, spoke of Rosalynn Carter as someone who "walked her own path, inspiring a nation along the way."

"She was a champion for equal rights and opportunities for women and girls; an advocate for mental health and wellness for every person; and a supporter of the often unseen and uncompensated caregivers of our children, aging loved ones, and people with disabilities," the Bidens said.

Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump also lauded her.

(With Input from Reuters)

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Updated: 20 Nov 2023, 07:26 AM IST
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