Mrs. Hoyt said that when Rosalynn Carter announced her chief goal was to create a “more caring society” — which included improvements in mental-health care and the condition of the elderly — the first lady was accused by some in the Washington press corps of crafting a “fuzzy,” ill-defined public identity.
Some of the blame fell to Mrs. Hoyt.
“I don’t know why it’s so difficult for people to expect this stereotype approach that she should have one project,” Mrs. Hoyt told The Washington Post at the time. “That a single project is an image. She has many interests and they all fit neatly together. But it isn’t easy. People are frustrated because they all want her to have a slogan, a title, a name for a project.
“Mrs. Carter,” she said, “defies packaging.”
Stories also proliferated that Rosalynn Carter, who attended Cabinet meetings and was the president’s personal emissary to some Latin American countries, sought to be an equal partner with her husband. Tensions reportedly escalated with presidential advisers in the West Wing, including the president’s press secretary, Jody Powell.
Meanhile, Mrs. Hoyt’s youngest son disappeared in a boating accident.
“I probably would have died without the job,” she said in an Carter White House oral history. “But on the other hand, I think my job suffered.”
During a 1979 White House reorganization, a new position of staff director was created to serve the first lady and coordinate Rosalynn Carter’s activities with the president’s top assistants. The job was filled by Kit Dobelle, chief of protocol for the State Department and wife of President Carter’s campaign chairman.
In a statement, Rosalynn Carter called Mrs. Hoyt “a trusted advisor and a loyal friend.” Indeed, she remained press secretary for the rest of the administration, accompanying the first lady on her trips, helping write and reviewing speeches, and generating interest in covering Mrs. Carter’s public activities.
“I’ve been a working woman for 18 years now,” Mrs. Hoyt told the Los Angeles Times at the time of the staff reorganization, “and I’ve learned that one of my assets is flexibility.”
Mary McMaster Finch was born Dec. 17, 1923, in Visalia, Calif. Her father was a produce broker. Her only sibling, a brother, was a B-17 pilot who was shot down during World War II over Europe.
She said she left the University of California at Los Angeles after three years to marry her childhood sweetheart, Robert Swanson, who died six months later during a wartime accident. Her later marriages to James M. Hoyt and George K. Tanham ended in divorce.
Survivors include a son from her second marriage, Thomas W. Hoyt of Flagstaff, Ariz. Another son from that marriage, Stephen M. Hoyt, was lost at sea in 1978 while working as a lobster fisherman off the coast of Rhode Island.
After leaving the White House in 1981, Mrs. Hoyt spent several years as public relations director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She wrote a memoir, “East Wing: Politics, the Press, and a First Lady,” published in 2001, and was recently working on a historic novel.
“Always remember your time is short in the sweep of history,” she wrote in a note to her successor at the White House, “so take time to smell the roses and nod to the portraits of those who [were] privileged also to be here.”