By BILL BARROW and MICHAEL WARREN
ATLANTA — Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, the closest adviser to Jimmy Carter during his one term as U.S. president and their four decades thereafter as global humanitarians, has died at the age of 96.
“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.”
President Joe Biden called the Carters “an incredible family because they brought so much grace to the office.”
“He had this great integrity, still does. And she did too,” Biden told reporters as he was boarding Air Force One on Sunday night after an event in Norfolk, Virginia. “God bless them.” Biden said he spoke to the family and was told that Jimmy Carter was surrounded by his children and grandchildren.
Many presidential aides insisted that her political instincts were better than her husband’s — they often enlisted her support for a project before they discussed it with the president. Her iron will, contrasted with her outwardly shy demeanor and a soft Southern accent, inspired Washington reporters to call her “the Steel Magnolia.”
Jimmy Carter trusted her so much that in 1977, only months into his term, he sent her on a mission to Latin America to tell dictators he meant what he said about denying military aid and other support to violators of human rights.
Throughout her husband`s political career, she chose mental health and problems of the elderly as her signature policy emphasis. When the news media didn`t cover those efforts as much as she believed was warranted, she criticized reporters for writing only about “sexy subjects.“
As honorary chairwoman of the President`s Commission on Mental Health, she once testified before a Senate subcommittee, becoming the first first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt to address a congressional panel. She was back in Washington in 2007 to push Congress for improved mental health coverage, saying, “We`ve been working on this for so long, it finally seems to be in reach.“
She said she developed her interest in mental health during her husband`s campaigns for Georgia governor.
“I used to come home and say to Jimmy, `Why are people telling me their problems? ` And he said, `Because you may be the only person they`ll ever see who may be close to someone who can help them,`” she explained.
After leaving Washington, Jimmy and Rosalynn co-founded The Carter Center in Atlanta to continue their work. She chaired the center`s annual symposium on mental health issues and raised funds for efforts to aid the mentally ill and homeless. She also wrote “Helping Yourself Help Others,“ about the challenges of caring for elderly or ailing relatives, and a sequel, “Helping Someone With Mental Illness.“
Frequently, the Carters left home on humanitarian missions, building houses with Habitat for Humanity and promoting public health and democracy across the developing world.
“I get tired,“ she said of her travels. “But something so wonderful always happens. To go to a village where they have Guinea worm and go back a year or two later and there`s no Guinea worm, I mean the people dance and sing __ it`s so wonderful.“
Jimmy Carter is the longest-lived U.S. president. Rosalynn Carter was the second longest-lived of the nation`s first ladies, trailing only Bess Truman, who died at age 97.
The repose on Nov. 27, at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, is open to the public. A private funeral and interment will take place Nov. 29 but the services will be broadcast on TV and streamed online, the center said.
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