This week, he reached another milestone: the longest presidential marriage. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have been married for more than 73 years — 26,766 days to be exact. That’s more than the previous record holders, George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, who were married for 73 years and 102 days until Barbara’s 2018 death.
They have been married for longer than more than half of all the U.S. presidents were alive. Twenty-five presidents had shorter life spans; plus, two living presidents — Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — have yet to reach that mile marker. (George W. Bush was born the day before the Carters married.)
The Carters married in 1946, when he was 21 and she was 18. But they have known each other for as long as Rosalynn has been alive; she lived down the road in their hometown of Plains, Ga., and was a frequent playmate of Carter’s little sister Ruth.
In his book “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety,” Carter said he learned later that Rosalynn had a crush on him for a long time and that she and Ruth had conspired for years to try to get him to notice her.
During a month-long leave from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1945, Carter spent most of his time at home with another young woman, a beauty pageant winner. On his last night of leave, she was busy. Carter was driving around town with his sister and her boyfriend when they spotted Rosalynn coming out of church. She agreed to go to the movies with him.
“She was remarkably beautiful, almost painfully shy, obviously intelligent, and yet unrestrained in our discussion on the rumble seat of the Ford Coupe,” he wrote.
The next morning, Carter’s mother asked him what he thought of Rosalynn.
“She’s the one I’m going to marry,” he replied, surprising even himself.
They dated over his Christmas break. When she visited him in Annapolis for Presidents’ Day, he proposed.
Rosalynn later explained in a letter that, six years earlier, she had promised her father on his deathbed that she wouldn’t marry until she finished college. At that point, she was a student in junior college but had yet to graduate. She continued to date young men at her school.
“I was distressed,” Carter wrote. He kept writing to her and calling her, letting her know that he was serious. By summertime, she had finished junior college, he had graduated from the Naval Academy, and they married on July 7, 1946. They moved into an apartment together in Norfolk, where Carter was stationed.
Jimmy and Rosalynn, 92, fought Jimmy’s brain cancer together in their hometown of Plains. As The Washington Post’s Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan wrote last year, they still hold hands when walking down the street. He affectionately calls her “kid.”