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“Partnering” by Jean Oelwang

Tangible lessons from 65+ of the world's most remarkable partnerships.

November 29, 2023

Rosalynn Carter, a life well lived

Photo: John Mathew Smith

Rosalynn Carter’s simple coffin was wheeled onto the altar as “America the Beautiful” was sung by an angelic choir in a humble church in Atlanta. A fitting song for someone who epitomized what makes America, and our world, beautiful.

Rosalynn was not just a good human being, she was a great human being. Her strength lay in her humility, her kindness, her wisdom, her love for her family which extended to all those whose lives she touched, and her fierce determination to never accept the unacceptable, not just in words, but in actions. As her Pastor Tony Lowden said:

She moved from her head to her heart to her hands to a habit [when she saw something that needed to change in the world].

For a few hours on the 28th November at the celebration of Rosalynn’s life, the world stopped, and we were surrounded in a bubble of love and kindness as her family and close friends paid tribute to her. And of course, her beloved Jimmy was there for her final act, sitting in the front row, his eyes intensely following all his loved ones as they stepped up to the altar and his warm heart welcoming them back after their outpouring of love for his partner of 77 years. Their love story is a beacon for all of us.

They each became who they were because of each other, multiplying their impact to change millions of lives for the better. There is no brighter example of an equal partnership that created a path to deeply meaningful lives. Their wealth was not measured in accumulating possessions and money, their wealth was in their relationships, with each other, with their incredible family, their friends, and their team at the Carter Center. All that really matters.

Rosalynn and Jimmy have lived a life of service, never stopping, never giving up. A relentless pursuit of justice and truth. Their grandson, Jason, quoted John Lewis, “what he learnt on all his marches, was – don’t let them turn you around.”

Jason also eloquently spoke about how Rosalynn always emphasized that a leader takes people where they want to go, but a real leader takes people where they need to go. She got behind issues no one else would ever dream of supporting. When she was campaigning and a mother asked her what she was going to do for her mentally ill daughter, Rosalynn acted, not just momentary action, she was there for the long run, 50 years of action as one of the first people to stand up for mental health. A pioneer where no one else was brave enough to go. Jason summed up her commitment perfectly:

My grandmother doesn’t need a eulogy, her life was a sermon.

Woven throughout her life was also a sense of joy and adventure, side by side with her husband. Jason shared a beautiful story about how Rosalynn and Jimmy travelled to Havana, Cuba for the night and when he asked them where they stayed, she said they didn’t need a hotel as they danced the whole night away.

Their daughter Amy captured their love and respect for each other by reading a letter Jimmy wrote to Rosalynn early on in their relationship when he was in the military:

My darling, every time I have ever been away from you, I have been thrilled when I returned to discover just how wonderful you are. While I’m away, I try to convince myself that you really are not, could not be, as sweet and beautiful as I remember. But when I see you, I fall in love with you all over again. Does that seem strange to you? It doesn’t to me. Goodbye, darling. Until tomorrow, Jimmy.

Fortunately, we don’t have to say goodbye to Rosalynn, as Pastor Lowden reminded all of us, she is alive in her family, in everyone who was lucky enough to know her, in the millions of lives she touched, and in the corridors of the US Government. We all just need to be a little bit more like her to bring back what is beautiful in this world.

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