Remembering Rosalynn Carter

I DID NOT KNOW ROSALYNN CARTER WELL. We met only once, in 2019, when I was invited to give a talk during the annual meeting of the Carter Political Items Collectors in Plains, Georgia. Even so, I felt her presence throughout the town.

Plains, her home, to which she and Jimmy Carter returned after leaving the White House, was—and is—so small that Lillian Carter, Rosalynn’s future mother-in-law, helped deliver her on the day she was born. Years later, when Jimmy Carter first asked her on a date, she turned him down. Then she “ran around with everyone else in Plains,” as he put it, before accepting his invitation.

Running around with everyone else in Plains turned out to be going on one date with one guy.

During my visit, residents and visitors alike needed nothing more than a smile to begin talking about the Carters. They pointed out that the couple’s Secret Service vehicle was a pickup truck, that they sometimes arrived at events in dusty jeans, or that Jan Williams, Lillian Carter’s former secretary and Amy Carter’s former teacher, could fix President Carter’s hair by licking her palm and smooshing it down.

Historian Larry Cook, who had known the Carters for two decades, said when he was with them, he often forgot he was talking to a former president and first lady.

Their grandson, James Earl Carter IV, paid Rosalynn Carter the ultimate compliment, calling her a “regular grandmother” who put his needs before her own and called often to check on him when he was going through a rough patch.

Her strength was in her belief in empathy and kindness, that power and position were to be used solely for the benefit of others. Wealth and fame were hollow and fleeting. Yet she was richer than most.

As my grandfather said, “Good name and honor are worth more than all the gold and jewels ever mined.”