The Carters are the longest-married presidential couple

By Ally Mauch
July 07, 2020 04:48 PM
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From left: former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter just beat their own record by another year.

The former president and first lady marked 74 years of marriage on Tuesday. Last October, they became the longest-married presidential couple, breaking the previous record set by former President George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush, who were married 73 years and 111 days at the time of the former first lady’s death in 2018.

President Carter, now 95, and Mrs. Carter, 92, first met in the early 1940s when he was on break from the Naval Academy and he asked her on a date to the movies, which her sister Ruth also attended.

“I just felt compatible with her,” the former president recalled in Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas’ book What Makes a Marriage Last, published in May. “She was beautiful and innocent, and there was a resonance. We rode in the rumble seat of a Ford pickup—Ruth and her boyfriend in the front—and I kissed her on that first date. I remember that vividly.”

The next morning, he told his mother that “Rosalynn was the one I wanted to marry.”

From left: President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter dancing at a White House congressional ball in 1977.
Universal History Archive/Getty
From left: Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter on election night in 1976.

The pair wed on July 7, 1946, and by their one-year anniversary, Mrs. Carter was in the hospital having their first child together, Jack. Three more kids followed after Jack: sons Chip and Jeff and, after a 14-year gap, daughter Amy (who spent part of her childhood in the White House).

When President Carter began his political career, Mrs. Carter distinguished herself — not just as a candidate’s spouse, a reflection of her husband, but as an exacting and influential figure in her own right.

“If Rosalynn okays you, you're in," a source told PEOPLE in 1976, after the couple was swept by victory into the Oval Office. "If she doesn't, you're dead."

“Jimmy has always thought I could do anything. Always. And so I’ve done everything,” the former first lady said in What Makes a Marriage Last. “I campaigned all over the country. I’ve done things I never dreamed I could do.”

From left: Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter attend a fundraiser on Valentine's Day in 1976.
Rick Diamond/Getty

While on the presidential trail in the ’70s, her husband would say, “Rosalynn's my secret weapon,” and she took his overwhelming loss to Ronald Reagan, in 1980, particularly hard.

“I searched for good things about not being reelected, to ease her pain,” President Carter told Donahue and Thomas in their book this year. “I was just fifty-six years old, I told her, and she was just fifty-three, so we had at least twenty-five years of life ahead of us. That’s when the Carter Center was born. It has been a wonderful challenge.”

Many decades later, the Carters remain active — something the former president previously told PEOPLE he attributes to marrying “the best spouse.”

“It’s hard to live until you’re 95 years old,” he said in October. “I think the best explanation for that is to marry the best spouse: someone who will take care of you and engage and do things to challenge you and keep you alive and interested in life.”

From left: former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter walk toward their home in Plains, Georgia, following dinner at a friend's home on Aug. 4, 2018.
Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty

He and Mrs. Carter “have had a good life together,” he said at the time.

Decades of memories bond them as do some of their shared hobbies, including bird-watching (“Rosa and I have seen about 1,300 different species of bird”), tennis (they have a court behind their house) and downhill skiing, which they took up when he was 62.

Older now and physically frailer, the couple plan only one year in advance. They savor periodic pauses in the public life from which neither will yet retire.

“Now when we have a quiet moment, like a birthday or something," he told PEOPLE, "we like to stay at home, just by ourselves, and enjoy a quiet day in our own house without any visitors and with minimum phone calls and emails coming in.”