Perspective: Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter’s love story is exactly what we need right now
As married politicians age, their relationships come to define them as much as their politics
The death of Rosalynn Carter, and the continued hospice care of her husband of 77 years, shows that for all the talk about the decline of marriage, there is still something about long-married couples that tugs on our collective hearts.
When news broke Sunday that Rosalynn Carter had died at 96, just two days after it was announced that she was receiving hospice care herself, one of the clips that circulated on social media was Jimmy Carter saying that getting married to her was the “pinnacle” of his life.
This was, of course, a man who had been elected president and won a Nobel Prize.
On the day Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Prize in 2002, Katie Couric asked him if this was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to him, and she seemed surprised when the former president said, in all seriousness, “Well, when Rosalynn said she’d marry me, I think that was the most exciting thing.”
Hearts melt the world over when watching the clip. There is no question that the president meant it.
“Well, when Rosalynn said she’d marry me. I think that was the most exciting thing.”— Jane of the North (@JaneotN) November 20, 2023
Former President Jimmy Carter, Naval Hero, President, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, on the most exciting thing that ever happened to him.
On the public tribute page for Rosalynn Carter, people are commenting about the couple’s deep devotion to each other and the example of “ethical and moral leadership” that they set. Not everyone liked Jimmy Carter’s politics or judged him an effective president; he was the 20th worst president on one list by U.S. News & World Report.
But he always scored high in moral authority on C-Span’s ranking of U.S. presidents, showing up in the top 10 on this particular standard. And while there are multiple reasons for this — including the couple’s charitable work, religious faith and down-to-earth lifestyle — Jimmy Carter’s devotion to his wife and their marriage certainly adds to that sheen.
How long were Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter married?
Being married for 77 years, longer than the average male life expectancy in the U.S. right now, made the couple something of an authority on marriage as well. And included in the recent spate of articles celebrating the Carters’ marriage, there are some sharing their tips for a lifelong union: among them, pick your partner carefully, don’t go to bed angry, and identify the things that you like to do together and spend a lot of time doing those things.
Rosalynn Carter echoed that latter advice in an interview around the time of their 75th anniversary, saying, “We’re always looking for things we can do together, like birding and fly-fishing and just anything we can find to do together.”
Which president had the longest marriage?
The headlines over the past few days show that, despite the troubling statistics about marriage overall, there is still a public appetite for love stories like the Carters’, and that when public figures have strong marriages, they can serve as role models for all of us.
Ronald and Nancy Reagan, of whom it was said “they could not bear to be apart,” were similarly admired for their love story. Before the Carters, George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, had been the longest-married presidential couple, with 73 years together. And Bill and Hillary Clinton, for all their very public marital problems, are approaching their 50th anniversary in 2025.
In fact, as presidents and other public figures age, their long-lasting marriages seem to become just as important as their professional achievements in the public eye. Perhaps love really does trump politics.
But for other former presidents, it will be tough to beat the Carters’ 77-year marriage. NPR noted that Barack and Michelle Obama “would need to live to be 108 (Barack) and 105 (Michelle) to make it to 77 years of marriage.”