If silver is the traditional gift for a 25th wedding anniversary and gold and diamonds are for a 50th and 60th respectively, what on earth do you give a couple marking their 72nd?
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter undoubtedly would give the same answer: Each other.
It was 72 years ago this Saturday -- July 7, 1946 -- when the former president and first lady were married in their hometown at Plains Methodist Church. He was 21 and just out of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. She was 18 and literally the girl next door (their two families lived beside each other in Plains when she was born).
Still, Jimmy Carter never tires of reminding people, she’d turned him down the first time he’d proposed months earlier.
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>>Photo Gallery: Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter through the years
“We would continue to write each other letters,” Jimmy Carter told the AJC in an interview days before the couple’s 70th wedding anniversary in 2016. “Mostly her letters were about all the boys she was going with … I was in the Naval Academy and I was kind of isolated from the outside world.”
Rosalynn Carter shook her head slightly.
“He’s said it for so long, I think he believes it,” she confided with a chuckle.
The Carters will celebrate their anniversary privately, a spokesperson said. They’ve earned both parts of that statement, considering the busy year they’ve had since their 71st anniversary, which fell just before they headed to Canada to spearhead Habitat for Humanity’s 34th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project.
On Day Four of that five-day building blitz of 150 new homes across Canada, Jimmy Carter, then 92, became dehydrated and was briefly hospitalized out of precaution. Yet by 8 a.m. the next day, he was back on the building site and that night, he and Rosalynn were the stars of the work project’s closing ceremony in Winnipeg.
Her husband had successfully undergone a battery of tests in the hospital, an upbeat Rosalynn Carter revealed, including one that showed “There has never been any kind of damage at all to Jimmy Carter’s heart.” As cheers broke out, she added, “I knew he had a good heart.”
Weeks later, on Aug. 18, 2017, Mrs. Carter turned 90. In an exclusive interview with the AJC (which -- guess who? -- Jimmy Carter popped into at one point) the tireless warrior for mental health care, childhood immunization and disease-fighting in some of the poorest parts of the world revealed what she wished she’d known at a much younger age:
“You can have a full life after 50.”
>>Related: AJC exclusive: Rosalynn Carter on turning 90
Earlier this year, Rosalynn Carter had surgery at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta to remove “troubling scar tissue” from a portion of her small intestine. Soon after, her husband, who’ll be 94 on Oct. 1, suggested they’d start reducing their famously full schedules a bit.
Since April, he’s cut back to “only” teaching Sunday school twice a month at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains. Afterwards, though, he and his ‘bride” continue to pose for individual photos with hundreds of visitors. Meanwhile, if history is a guide, they’ll contentedly work side-by-side on a hot and dusty building site when the 35th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project for Habitat for Humanity takes place Aug. 26-31 in Mishawaka and South Bend, Indiana. (Find additional information at www.habitat.org)
They’re in this together. Maybe more than ever now.
This year’s annual Presidents Day event at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains came one day after Rosalynn Carter’s surgery early on a Sunday morning. The former president showed up to speak and to answer questions submitted by students. Which was “cooler,” one savvy youngster asked him, winning the presidency or winning a Nobel Peace Prize?
Carter said both had made him happy.
“The only other time I remember when I was that happy,” he said, “is when the doctor came in Sunday morning and told me that my wife was alive.”
>>Listen to the podcast: Going to Sunday school and Plains with Jimmy Carter