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Jimmy Carter's Wife of 75 Years 'Fell in Love with a Photograph of Him' Yet Denied His Proposal at First

Olawale Ogunjimi
Apr 07, 2022
05:00 A.M.
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America's 39th president, Jimmy Carter, recorded a few successes as an active politician. Similarly, he was blessed with a blissful marriage to his wife of seventy-five years, even though she initially denied his proposal after falling in love with his picture.

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Jimmy Carter's wife of many years was just a baby when they met. Carter's mom, nurse Lilian, had helped Rosalynn's mom in delivery, after which she brought her toddler son to visit the newborn.

Both families became close, and they lived in the same town, Plains, in Georgia, so it was easy for them to retain their friendship.

[Left] Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter stands with his wife, Rosalynn, while members of the media gather behind them during Carter's campaign for the 1976 presidential election; [Right] Jimmy Carter kissing his wife, Rosalynn. | Source: Getty Images facebook.com/CarterPresidentialLibrary

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Rosalynn often visited the Carters, and she was a close friend of Jimmy's sister, Ruth. However, before meeting the future president, she was uninterested in boys and would ignore them whenever they phoned. According to her:

"I'd tell my mother to answer the phone and say I wasn't home. I didn't know a single boy I thought I'd want to spend my life with."

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However, the story changed once she noticed her friend's brother at age 13. Although he was not home often, she fell in love with him by merely staring at his picture. In her words:

"I always said I fell in love with a photograph of him on her bedroom wall."

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Rosalynn's interest in Jimmy did not automatically give them a ticket for a romance. It was rather inappropriate for a 13-year-old to date a 16-year-old. She said:

"I first started noticing him when I was thirteen, and, I mean, there's just no relationship between a thirteen-year-old and a sixteen-year-old in that situation."

A few years later, fate and plotting brought them together. Jimmy, who was dating a beauty queen, found himself alone after she attended a family reunion without him.

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While he was looking for a date to accompany his sister, Ruth, and her boyfriend, he picked Rosalynn (the best friend planned for Jimmy to ask her out), and it was the perfect timing for their first date. Jimmy explained that:

"I just felt compatible with her," he says. "She was beautiful and innocent, and there was a resonance. We rode in the rumble seat of a Ford pickup—Ruth and her boyfriend in the front—and I kissed her on that first date. I remember that vividly."

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The next day after their first date, Jimmy became convinced that she was his soulmate. He told his mother:

"Rosalynn was the one I wanted to marry." 

In another interview, the former president admitted that apart from Rosalynn's intelligence, calmness, and beauty, "there was just something about her that was irresistible."

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PROPOSAL THAT WENT WRONG AT FIRST 

Undoubtedly, the young lovers were excited about their newfound love, and in less than a year, Jimmy proposed to Rosalynn when she visited him at the U.S Naval Academy.

Despite being smitten by the young naval officer, Rosalynn said no. She was concerned about keeping her promise to her deceased dad. Rosalynn had vowed to finish college, as her father never went to high school.

The refusal hurt Jimmy, yet while he "grieved," he "persevered, while planning to prepose yet again," even though "from then until late May, she maintained, 'No.'"

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Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn on September 30, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia | Source: Getty Images

HOW THE COUPLE BECAME EQUAL PARTNERS IN LOVE AND MARRIAGE

Following her acceptance, the couple scheduled their marriage ceremony for July 1946. They soon started a family with the birth of their first child, Jack.

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After Jack, they welcomed two more sons, Chip and Jeff. The couple waited for nearly two decades before the birth of their last child and only daughter, Amy: whose childhood memories included life in the White House. Like with everything in life, the couple's relationship recorded a transformation.

During the early years of their marriage, they moved around due to Jimmy's frequent postings. Eventually, Jimmy became mostly absent, fulfilling his military duties while leaving his wife to independently make some decisions for the family.

President Jimmy Carter, holding his grand-daughter Sarah Carter, First Lady Rosalynn Carter (in red), and their daughter, Amy Carter during the 1980 National Democratic Convention held at Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, August 11-14, 1980.| Source: Getty Images

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He never interfered with her running the home but was "completely dominant" when it involved crucial life-changing family decisions. 

Later on, when he retired from the military and lost his dad to cancer, the family returned to Plains to take over the farming business. This was how the significant change in their love story began. They mentioned that:

"Once we began working together in business, we became equal partners in almost everything. It was a transformation in our marriage."

Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter at a White House Congressional Ball, Washington, D.C. on December 13, 1978 | Source: Getty Images

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Rosalynn was skillful in handling the paper works on the farm; she worked in bookkeeping. This somehow motivated her husband to seek her advice. In her words:

"So it wasn't long before I knew on paper more about the work than he did. So he'd come to ask me my advice." 

Jimmy added: "That's true. We began to work together as equals in our business. I would defer to Rosalynn or consult with her before I made any major decisions," President Carter says. "We learned how to work together."

Rosalynn Carter and Jimmy Carter in Atlanta, Georgia, circa October, 1994 | Source: Getty Images

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Rosalynn, who became a vital wing of her husband's administration, campaigned around the country and approved some political seats. She revealed that her husband made her into a significant woman. She said:

"Jimmy gave me the confidence to do things I was afraid of."

Former president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn Smith at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in September 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia | Source: Getty Images

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THE SECRETS TO THE COUPLE'S 75-YEAR MARRIAGE

Like every power couple, these two have a formidable relationship that has stood the test of time. But, as expected, they have several secrets that have helped them bond, one of which is space. According to Jimmy:

"We give each other plenty of space to do our own things. And we try to find things we like to do together, and we try to concentrate on them."

Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter on August 04, 2018 in Plains, Georgia | Source: Getty Images

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Another secret to their long-term running marriage is never going to bed angry, irrespective of their disagreement. America's 39th president said:

"We try to make sure we never go to sleep at night angry at each other. We get angry often, but we try to get over it before we sleep."

Jimmy confessed that there are times when they argue, but in the end, he tries to reconcile after observing his faults.

Jimmy Carter on August 05, 2018 in Plains, Georgia | Source: Getty Images

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Another binding factor in their relationship is doing things as a team, from the decisions of their home, children, politics, and basic routines. 

Now that they have mostly each other to deal with, as their kids are grown, the couple spends time doing fun things, including tennis, fly-fishing, and reading the Bible.

Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter on August 04, 2018 in Plains, Georgia | Source: Getty Images

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Despite their templates of having a good marriage, the longest-ever married presidential couple explained that there is a little magic that happens with the right spouse. In Jimmy's words:

"I think the best explanation for that is to marry the best spouse. Someone who will take care of you and engage and do things to challenge you and keep you alive and interested in life."

Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter on February 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

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INSIDE THE COUPLE'S LIFE AND PARENTING NOW

After Jimmy's four-year tenure ended in 1981, the couple continued making a difference around them and the world.

Through their nonprofit "Carter Center," they toured the globe combating neglected illnesses, advancing democracy, supporting victims of mental issues, and helping the needy.

Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn at the Sotheby's Auction in New York City, on October 4, 1983 | Source: Getty Images

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The couple chose to remain in their hometown, in the ranch house built in 1961, where they are cherished and live a quiet and conservative lifestyle, shopping at Dollar General. Jill Stukey, their family friend, said:

"They could live any place in the world they wanted. A lot of presidents have moved from their home, but they're safe here. We take care of them, we love them, and they know that, and they just love getting out and walking the streets of their hometown as they have done since they were kids."

The former president feels accomplished with his long-term marriage and kids, who have blessed them with grandkids and great-grandkids.

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A portrait of President Jimmy Carter and his extended family. | Source: Getty Images

In 2015, during an interview, the father of four revealed that his family is "the foundation for my entire enjoyment of life." He further stated:

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"We have a big family now," he said. "We have 22 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, 38 of us in all. So, we try to hold our family together and just enjoy the family life."

Indeed, the Carters inspire many, including fans and celebrities. However, they have shown that being a popular figure should not interfere with building a productive lifestyle involving an affectionate relationship between spouses and kids.

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