Politics

Jimmy Carter: ‘When Rosalynn said she’d marry me’ was most exciting thing in life

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When Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, the former president was asked by Katie Couric if the honor was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to him.

Carter had accomplished much in his life to that point: He had spent four years in the White House, helped build thousands of homes for Habitat for Humanity and worked for decades expanding and promoting human rights. None of those was the answer.

Why? Because none could hold up to Rosalynn, the love of his life.

“Well,” Carter said on NBC’s “Today” show in October 2002, “when Rosalynn said she’d marry me, I think that’s the most exciting thing.”

The response surprised a smiling Couric.

“Oh my gosh,” she said. “You’re going to score points with that this morning!” Carter could only grin and laugh.

Many around the world have celebrated the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history, which lasted more than 77 years until Sunday, when Rosalynn Carter died after a brief stay in hospice care at home in Plains, Ga. She was 96. The Carter Center in Atlanta, which announced her death, had revealed in May that she had dementia.

Rosalynn Carter, first lady who championed mental health, dies at 96

The Carters had spent the final months of their time together at the family home in Plains. The former president, now 99, entered hospice care in February.

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” Jimmy Carter said in a statement after his wife’s death. “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.”

As The Washington Post reported in 2021, Jimmy Carter knew almost immediately that he would marry the woman he had just gone to the movies with for their first date in 1945. Rosalynn Carter — then Rosalynn Smith — was reluctant at first to jump into marriage. After their date, Jimmy Carter returned to the Naval Academy and they began writing letters to each other. She said no to his first proposal, later recalling in her memoir how she was too “young and naive” to be married.

Inseparable: On their 75th anniversary, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter celebrate a record-setting love story

But a few weeks later, she had a change of heart and accepted his second proposal when she visited him in Annapolis. He was 21 and she was 18. They were married in July 1946, a month after Carter graduated from the Naval Academy. The Carters would go on to be married for more years than the life spans of more than half of all U.S. presidents.

In 2002, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that Carter had won the Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” Carter became the third U.S. president to be honored with the prize and remains the only person to have earned it post-presidency.

The Carters received the call around 4 a.m., and the former first lady wondered if something was wrong.

“I was worried. I thought it was one of my children,” she said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Then we thought it was a prank call.”

The honor came after Carter had opposed the Iraq War and criticized President George W. Bush for his handling of it. But when Bush later welcomed the Nobel laureates to the White House, he noted two people in particular who knew the White House well.

“I welcome somebody who spent a lot of quality time here,” Bush said. “President Carter and Mrs. Carter, we’re so honored to have you.”

In his “Today” show appearance in October 2002, Carter said the Nobel honor was just starting to sink in.

“Is this the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to you?” Couric asked. “Or I guess being elected president of the United States must be right up there as well, right?”

After Carter smiled, he listed the Camp David Accords, which led to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and being elected president as some of the other top moments in his life.

“I’ve had a lot of wonderful occasions in my life,” he said.

But none of them topped persuading Rosalynn to marry him.

Kevin Sullivan, Mary Jordan and Gillian Brockell contributed to this report.




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