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First Lady Rosalynn Carter's Lasting Legacy on the World

Opinion

December 03, 2023

Wife, envoy, mother, and leader. In Memoriam of Rosalynn Carter

Rosalynn Smith Carter was the wife of former President Jimmy Carter and served as the First Lady from 1977 to 1981. She was a trusted adviser to her husband and influenced many pivotal decisions. But her leadership didn’t stop when she left her role as First Lady.

Her main impact outside the office was founding the Carter Center with her husband. She championed mental health rights, caregiving, and human rights through this center for countless decades.

However, Rosalynn’s story begins humbly. She was one of four children in a family of postal workers, bus drivers, and dressmakers. She grew up in poverty, and her father died of leukemia when she was just thirteen, marking “the end of (her) childhood.” But she didn’t stop working; she helped her mother financially and became valedictorian at her high school.

Then, while attending university in 1945, she met Jimmy Carter. They kissed on the first date, fell in love instantly, and kissed again at their wedding a year later. She remained his faithful wife for decades but didn’t let that confine her limits.

When Jimmy Carter became Georgia’s governor in 1970, Rosalynn focused on mental health rights. She was appointed to the Governor’s Commission to Improve Services for the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped.

After a successful governorship, Jimmy Carter began his presidential campaign in 1976. Rosalynn put in more effort, diverting her efforts to her husband’s campaign. However, she didn’t lose track of her pursuits, as she was elected to the National Association of Mental Health board of directors.

Her efforts helped elevate Jimmy Carter to the White House podium, and she was honored to serve as First Lady. However, she didn’t approach her new role as a traditional First Lady. She transformed the role by attending Cabinet meetings.

As one of her notable impacts, Rosalynn represented America in Central and South America as Jimmy Carter’s emissary. She took unique initiative in creating personal relationships with Latin American countries. For 13 days, she met with several Latin American leaders and reported her results to the Secretary of State and the president to develop “ties with friends to the South.”

“I do know Jimmy’s basic foreign policy, which I will be stressing to these foreign heads of states and consulting them,”

- Rosalynn Carter prior to her departure.

However, most of Rosalynn’s efforts were focused on mental health, as the Carter Center mentions that she “(was) a driving force in the field of mental health throughout her public service career.” She started numerous initiatives like the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, the Carter Center Mental Health Task Force, and the Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism. With her expertise in mental health, she testified in front of Congress, which then ratified many policies on caregiving.

Furthermore, Rosalynn Carter advocated for Women’s Rights. She was honored by the National Organization for Women and awarded an Award of Merit for her support of the Equal Rights Amendment. She met with ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) activists once a month. The amendment wouldn’t have been ratified if it weren’t for her support.

Her bolstering support inducted her into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002.

“There are only four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers; those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”

- Rosalynn Carter.

As aforementioned, her father was diagnosed with cancer when she was just 12. Her childhood “ended,” but her role as a caregiver commenced. A year later, her father died, yet Rosalynn’s drive for caregiving only grew stronger.

Eventually, she wrote several books on mental health. Most notably, she wrote “Helping Someone With Mental Illness” as a guide for caregivers. But she wanted something more, so she wrote her autobiography, “First Lady from Plains.” This book depicts her humble beginnings and fame as she progresses through life.

Her death on November 19th left a grim scar on America, but her lasting legacy leaves a positive halo around the world. Her funeral was held in Plains, Georgia, and every living First Lady attended: Michelle Obama, Melania Trump, etc. Close friends and family gathered to say goodbye to the former First Lady. The former president, Jimmy Carter, silently mourned his beloved wife.

The funeral was simple, a tribute to Rosalynn’s humble spirit. All family members in attendance wore leis because of the Carters’ time spent together in Hawaii, where former President Carter was stationed for his naval career. A couple who are close to the Carters shipped leis for the funeral service.

Despite former president Jimmy’s frailty, he bore witness to the funeral in a wheelchair. He is in hospice care.

The service ended with David Osborne playing one of Rosalynn’s favorites, “Imagine.” After the funeral, she was buried near the Georgia home that she built with her husband. From the church, a procession of black SUVs passed through the town and the Plains train depot, a headquarters for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign. Rosalynn was driven slowly, and her family treaded behind.

Rosalynn’s gravesite was chosen tactfully, as she wanted her grave to become a museum, attracting tourists to her quaint town. Despite her platform, she maintained an austere lifestyle. Her memorial service before the funeral was attended by notable figures like Joe Biden, Doug Emhoff, and Michelle Obama. Conversely, the funeral was attended by close family, friends, and every living First Lady.

One can learn a lot from Rosalynn Carter. She came from a small town and a large family but moved up the ladder to become one of the most powerful women in the world, not only as a woman but as a leading figure. She’s a paragon for hard work and mental health.

And her advances in mental health research will benefit our world forever. Rosalynn isn’t with us anymore, but her legacy will last forever. Rosalynn will live in our memories and our hearts.

Dev Shah
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Writer since Sep, 2023 · 24 published articles

Dev Shah is a freshman at Palm Harbor University High School. He won the 2023 national spelling bee and now runs a coaching business and blog. In his free time, he loves to read, play the cello, write, and play tennis. He has essays published in the Washington Post and Tampa Bay Times.

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