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Rosalynn Carter's legacy


JILL BIDEN: I'm sorry that I have to lead this off with a sad announcement. Former first lady Rosalynn Carter has just passed.


That was first lady Jill Biden speaking to military families in Virginia today. Rosalynn Carter was 96 years old. She died this afternoon at her home in Plains, Ga., surrounded by her family. Carter was first lady from 1977 to 1981 and one of her husband's closest advisers. She spoke to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED back in 1984.


ROSALYNN CARTER: I don't think I'm smarter than Jimmy Carter, but I loved the political life. I loved it. I like the intrigue. And it's - and having one election, people who really support you and the next election will be your opponents, and the ones who were your opponents will be your supporters. I just like the whole - I like all of it. I like getting out and meeting people and talking with them and learning the country. It was just fascinating to me. I miss it.

DETROW: Longtime PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff covered the Carter White House and got to know Rosalynn Carter over the years. Judy, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you. Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: In a statement today, President Carter said, Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished. I mean, they were married for more than three-quarters of a century. But that idea of a partnership was especially true when Carter was in the White House, wasn't it?

WOODRUFF: It was, Scott. And I actually go back even farther than the White House. I - one of my first assignments as a reporter starting out in Atlanta was to cover the Carter candidacy for governor in 1970. And even back then, he and Rosalynn Carter were - they were a tight pair. They didn't do everything together, but he consulted with her on everything. And she was - it was very much the two of them on that journey that started all those decades ago.

DETROW: That sense of a love of politics that we just heard from her, could you sense that on the campaign trail, in the White House and the governor's office?

WOODRUFF: Well, I would say not in the beginning. When I first met her, he had run for governor four years earlier and hadn't made it. And by 1970, she had a little practice, but she still - it still was something she didn't love to do. She wrote much later about how it was an ordeal for her. But she grew to love it. She grew to be someone who relished that role. And, yes, as you just heard in her voice and what she said in that interview to NPR, that when he lost the presidency and they went back to Georgia, she was very disappointed, even - probably even more disappointed than he was. Of course, she got over it.


WOODRUFF: They had a much richer life to live ahead of them. But that was a telling comment.

DETROW: Any specific places that her partnership with Carter, her deep involvement in his presidency, left its mark on the administration, on its policies?

WOODRUFF: Well, there would be several. I mean, I covered a trip that she made. It was history-making. For the first time, a first lady traveled overseas to visit a number of foreign countries and meet with heads of state, heads of government on behalf of the president. She made this trip to Latin America. I think it was seven different countries. And no one expected her - a lot of people didn't expect her to do well. She ended up doing quite well in conveying his message, and these were some tough conversations. But I would say the thing that most - I remember most is Camp David - the Camp David Accords. She was there by the president's side for almost that entire - I guess it was 13 days - and was a fly on the wall, was giving advice in the corner. I don't want to pretend that she was a foreign policy adviser, but she was very much - she was a close observer of people, and that was a huge asset for him.

DETROW: Yeah. And a lot of these things are commonplace in a sense - in the modern first - the way a modern first lady approaches the job. But it was really groundbreaking and unique that she was doing all of this and being so involved at that time.

WOODRUFF: Well, it was, and she very early - I think it was in weeks of - that he came to the White House - she told him she was going to sit in on cabinet meetings. And it made big news in Washington because that wasn't something first ladies had done before. But she explained it very simply. She said, well - she said, I told Jimmy that I didn't want to make him have to go over with me everything that had happened during the day, and I thought if I just sat in a meeting, I could hear it myself. And she did do that for a while. It didn't go on forever.

But, Scott, I do have to say the legacy that she leaves, it's not only her time in the White House and her closeness to him, but it's the work she did for many, many years around mental health, advocacy for mental health, trying to reduce the stigma around mental health and also for caregivers. She was a huge advocate of people who take care of those who can't take care of themselves.

DETROW: We've got about a minute here, but I wanted to ask you about the personal side. I know you interviewed the Carters when they hit 75 years of marriage. What stood out to you about their partnership and relationship?

WOODRUFF: Well, it was just - it was something I will never forget. We spoke with each other just a block or so down the street from their home, at this quaint little inn that she had actually helped to decorate. And when I asked her what the secret to their 75 years was, she said - and I don't - this isn't an exact quote, but she said, we give each other space, which is so interesting given how close they are, that she...


WOODRUFF: ...That was the first thing she said. But then she, of course, went on to say, we do things together. We go birding. We go fly fishing and so forth and so on. But she was very much her own person at the same time she was a partner for him.

DETROW: That is journalist Judy Woodruff remembering first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died today at age 96. Thank you so much for joining us.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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