(Reuters) – Former U.S. first lady Rosalynn Carter, who President Jimmy Carter called “an extension of myself” owing to his wife’s prominent role in his administration even as she tirelessly promoted the cause of mental health, died on Sunday at age 96, the Carter Center said.
Rosalynn Carter, who in recent days had entered hospice care at home in Plains, Georgia, died with her family by her side, according to a statement released by the Carter Center, a nonprofit organization founded by the couple.
Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, served as president from 1977 to 1981. He and his wife were the longest-married U.S. presidential couple, having wed in 1946 when he was 21 and she was 18. After his single term as president ended, he has also enjoyed more post-White House years than any president before him, and she played an instrumental role during those years, including as part of the Carter Center and the Habitat for Humanity charity.
Her family in May disclosed that she had dementia but was continuing to live at home. Jimmy Carter, 99, himself is in hospice care after deciding in February to decline additional medical intervention.
“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.”
She was seen as unassuming and quiet before coming to Washington in 1977 but developed into an eloquent speaker, campaigner and activist. Her abiding passion, which carried far beyond her White House years, was for the mentally ill, not because of any personal connection but because of a strong feeling 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.”