Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter talk about what 75 years of love accomplishes

Couple gets ready to celebrate rare milestone

Jimmy Carter won the presidency and a Nobel Peace Prize.

But the best thing ever to happen to him, he says, occurred on July 7, 1946, when he exchanged wedding vows with Rosalynn Smith at a tiny Methodist church in Plains.

He was a 21-year-old U.S. Naval Academy graduate with a heap of ambition.

She was the brilliant 18-year-old salutatorian of Plains High School who had fallen in love with a photograph of the future president that she had seen hanging on the bedroom wall of her friend Ruth, Carter’s sister.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter pose on their wedding day, July 7, 1946. The couple had both attended Plains High School but were three years apart in age. Carter's sister Ruth played matchmaker for the couple. (Jimmy Carter Library)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

In a 2015 interview designed to get him to reflect on his political and humanitarian work, he was asked what he was most proud of.

“The best thing I ever did was marrying Rosalynn. That’s the pinnacle of my life,” Carter said.

On Wednesday, the Carters will celebrate an incredible 75 years of marriage.

It is a mark so rare that the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t keep statistics on how many couples make it that far. But only 6% of married couples make it to even 50 years.

The Carters are the longest-married presidential couple in U.S. history, followed by former president George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, who were married for 73 years and 102 days until Barbara’s 2018 death.

“Let that sink in — 75 years,” said the couple’s grandson, Jason Carter, the chairman of the Carter Center. “That number alone reflects so many blessings in their life. They have had their health and their partnership for so long. It’s a wonderful story.”

Maybe Jimmy Carter was onto something when he told his mother that “Rosalynn was the one I want to marry,” the morning after the couple’s first date.

That first date led to a wedding. Which led to the Georgia Governor’s Mansion. Then to the White House. Then to the poorest and most depressing places on the globe where they worked hand-in-hand to eradicate diseases and monitor democratic elections.

Then back to where it all started in Plains.

Mrs. Carter, 93, and the former president, 96, kept a low profile during the pandemic, although they recently started attending church again.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter's marriage license, filed July 7, 1946, in Sumter County, Georgia. (Jimmy Carter Library)

Credit: Jimmy Carter Library

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Credit: Jimmy Carter Library

To mark their anniversary, they will spend a low-key evening at home in Plains. On Saturday afternoon, friends and family will gather at the old Plains High School for a private anniversary party.

In their first interview in close to two years, the Carters talked to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Ernie Suggs about their enduring union and what 75 years together has taught them.

Was it love at first sight for each of you?

Mrs. Carter: It was not love at first sight for me, because I had already fallen in love with a picture of him in the bedroom of his sister. He was never at home. He was in the Naval Academy when I started going with him. Ruth (his sister) had tried a good while to get me together with him when he came home on leave. It took a while, but finally he drove up to the church. I was there for a youth meeting, and he asked me for a date.

What was it, Mrs. Carter, about the photograph?

Mrs. Carter: He was handsome. And he was so sweet to Ruth. He had two sisters.

President Carter, what were your thoughts when you first saw her?

President Carter: I first saw Mrs. Carter when she was a newborn baby, and I was three years older than Rosa. I thought she was a nice-looking baby.

So, you knew her when she was born, but Mrs. Carter, you didn’t know him when he was away in the Navy?

President Carter: We knew each other, but I was three years older than she was.

Mrs. Carter: And he was always gone.

The Carters pose for a family portrait with their three sons — from left, Jeff, Jack and Chip — during his inauguration as governor in January 1971. Daughter Amy would have been three years old at the time. (Carter family photo / Jimmy Carter Library)

Credit: Jimmy Carter Library

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Credit: Jimmy Carter Library

So how has all of that evolved over the 75 years?

Mrs. Carter: We still love each other.

President Carter: I think it has increased.

How has it increased?

President Carter: We have grown closer to each other. We’ve learned from each other. And we have learned to accommodate each other’s idiosyncrasies. And we’ve learned how to give each other plenty of space. We can each do our own thing and the other one absent.

Mrs. Carter: And we also look for things to do together.

After 75 years as a couple, is there anything about your spouse that still gets on your nerves?

President Carter: Well, Rosa is a little hard of hearing, and that creates most of our arguments these days.

Mrs. Carter: I think that is the root of all of our problems. Because he forgets that I have my hearing aids in and sometimes talks too loud to me.

And that gets on your nerves?

Mrs. Carter: Yes, that gets on my nerves.

President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter on a train trip from Cairo to Alexandria on March 9, 1979. (White House Special Photographer / Jimmy Carter Library)

Credit: Jimmy Carter Library

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Credit: Jimmy Carter Library

What are three or four key behaviors you two practice that has helped keep your marriage together for 75 years?

President Carter: We try to forgive each other every night for any differences we may have had during the day. We try to read the Bible every day. Most of the time late in the evening. And we try to reconcile and never go to sleep with any lingering argument.

Mrs. Carter: Jimmy is really kind and he will hold out his hand, take my hand when we are walking down the street or sitting in the car. Squeeze my hand. Those kinds of things draw me closer to him.

What are you most proud of having accomplished as a couple?

President Carter: Having been elected president with Rosa’s good help.

Mrs. Carter: We got to the White House. That was a major accomplishment.

President Carter: In the campaign we worked closely together, and in the White House we worked closely together.

Mrs. Carter: But I think our partnership started before that when I was keeping books at our farm supply business. It was not too long before I got to know more about the business on paper than he knew about it and I could advise him. For instance, once we started doing peanuts and cotton and we started shelling corn, I realized from the books that we were not making any money. That we were losing money. I could advise him. So that is how I think our partnership developed. That was the beginning of it.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter prepare for poll closing procedures during elections in Monrovia, Liberia, in 2005. In the last 35 years, the couple have observed dozens of elections. (The Carter Center)

Credit: Deborah Hakes/TCC

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Credit: Deborah Hakes/TCC

Did I read somewhere, Mrs. Carter, that you still make breakfast every day?

Mrs. Carter: Not now. A lot of things have happened with age.

President Carter: But she still makes supper almost every night.

That is one of those loving things that you keep doing as a couple.

President Carter: That’s right. I can just relax late afternoon while she cooks supper. I help her if she ever needs help.

What keeps you both motivated after all these years?

President Carter: Our family brings us together. We have about 43 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Rosa takes care of them mostly, but our interest in our children and grandchildren is one of our motivations.

Mrs. Carter: We try to find things to do together. We have always done that. We fly fish. We are bird watchers.

President Carter: We learned how to ski together. We traveled the world together.

And you still have nicknames for each other?

Mrs. Carter: I call him Jimmy.

President Carter: I call her sweetheart and beautiful.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter hold hands as they leave the Maranatha Baptist Church following church services in Plains in 2014. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

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