Former President Jimmy Carter getting a kiss from his wife Rosalynn as she introduces him during a reopening ceremony for the redesigned Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta in October 2009. Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, celebrate their 65th anniversary this week on Thursday. (AP Photo)
ATLANTA — Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, endured the grind of political campaigns and the pressure cooker of the White House. But their marriage faced its stiffest test in the years after his presidency.
For the couple, who celebrate their 65th anniversary Thursday, it came when they decided to write a book together in the mid-1980s. Soon, they were sending each other nasty notes and squabbling about minor differences. They were ready to hand back their book advance when an editor arranged a cease-fire: They would write their own sections and initial them.
“They’re not all disagreements. There are some things I knew and that you knew we wanted to put in,” Rosalynn says now of writing the 1987 book, “Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life.”
Jimmy cuts in. “Well, I would say they were disagreements,” he said, adding with a chuckle: “I was amazed at how paltry Rosa’s memory was.”
There are bound to be some tense moments in the second-longest marriage in the history of the American presidency. In the long line of American presidents and first ladies, only George H.W. and Barbara Bush have been married longer.
The Carters have known each other for more than 80 years, dating back to when the president was 4 and lived down the street from Rosalynn, who was just an infant. Rosalynn was best friends with Jimmy’s little sister, but the two didn’t start dating until Jimmy returned to Southwest Georgia in 1945 while on leave from the U.S. Naval Academy.
“The next morning I told my mother she’s the one I want to marry,” he said. “It was just an overnight infatuation, a love affair with me.”
Rosalynn wasn’t so sure. She rejected his first marriage proposal — “I was very young,” she explained — before acceding a few months later.
These days, Carter likes to say Rosalynn is his most trusted adviser and his equal partner. But it wasn’t always so.
When he resigned from the Navy and returned to their hometown of Plains, Ga., to take over his ailing father’s peanut business, he said it was a snap decision. And he only told Rosalynn he was running for the Georgia Senate as he was changing into a suit before driving to town to qualify as a candidate.
“That’s a strange thing and now a great mystery to me,” he said. “The first few years I made the basic decisions, and I would just inform Rosalynn what I had decided.”
She cuts in: “Total housewife.”
“Now it’s inconceivable to me because I don’t make any decisions now without asking Rosalynn first, and generally I just do what she suggests,” he said.