On November 19, 2023, at the age of ninety-six, Rosalynn Carter, nee Eleanor Rosalynn Smith, died. As a Canadian, I first heard of Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn during his bid for the American presidency. CTV’s then lead anchor, Harvey Kirk surprised viewers when he abandoned his usual Walter Cronkite seriousness to inform us that we would have to learn to “talk south” once Mr. Carter took office as America’s thirty-nineth president. Kirk could barely hold it together as he tried out his southern accent, his rendering of “tahking sahth” an unforgettable moment for the usually straight-laced newsman. Back then, lots of people in Canada and the US made fun the the Carters’ soft southern speech patterns, but no one is making fun of them now. After more than forty years of service in their post-presidential lives, we are much better able to see the true stature of the Carters because they stand in such sharp contrast to the current power hungry people fighting to hold office while apparently forgetting the real purpose of such elected-official positions: to serve the highest good for people and our planet.
Embedded in an article posted about Mrs. Carter on CBC’s website is a photograph of Rosalynn Carter with one of Canada’s former first ladies, Margaret Trudeau, wife of former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and mother of Canada’s current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. The year that photo was taken, nineteen seventy-seven, would prove to be momentous for Ms Trudeau and for Canada when she left her husband to pursue life on her own terms. No one understood at the time that the former wife of Pierre Trudeau suffered from Bipolar Disorder, an especially poignant circumstance given Rosalynn Carter’s adult-life commitment to end mental illness stigma and champion mental health services.
Throughout her long life, Mrs. Carter embodied the stability and effectiveness of mental strength and clarity and its balancing power, loving kindness. A woman devoted to public service, she advocated for the adoption of the ERA, demonstrated a hands-on approach to community support through Habitat for Humanity, and shone a light on the vital need for mental health services, perhaps because she’d seen the devastating effects of mental illness on more than one occasion. In an age preoccupied with women’s appearance over the substance of their contributions to humanitarian causes, community and restorative justice, and creative inspiriation in our culture, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter shines bright, a much needed beacon in increasingly dark times.
Thank you, Mrs. Carter, for your example of loving kindness, faithfulness, political astuteness, and authenticity. You will be missed, and your legacy of tireless public service will never be forgotten.
Until next time,