RIP Rosalynn Carter, a truly great First Lady | Opinion | Salt Lake City Weekly

RIP Rosalynn Carter, a truly great First Lady 

Taking a Gander

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Rosalynn Carter never had a boob job, nor was she ever featured as a centerfold in “gentlemen’s” magazines.

Some may have described her as a “bit plain,” but she kept the face that nature had blessed her with and had no interest in changing the shape of her eyes to something more extraterrestrial. She never claimed to have earned an architectural degree after dropping out of college in her first semester—as did another First lady. Interrupted in her education by marriage, family and public service, she kept her strong commitment to learning and growth.

Rosalynn wrote and/or co-authored around 25 books on a wide range of subjects, invariably with a predictable focus on what people can do to help each other. She was a tireless advocate for the mentally ill, understanding that mental infirmity is a physical ailment, and that health care is an essential right for everyone. She spearheaded foundations and movements for the betterment of mankind, and was an avid supporter of Habitat for Humanity and its goal of adequate, inexpensive housing for all.

Rosalynn didn’t rely on nannies, considered parenting to be the noblest of callings and never wore a jacket with the message of an obviously vacuous mind: “I don’t care; do U?” She was practical and resourceful and shunned expensive designers; her presidential inauguration gown was the same one she wore when Jimmy became governor. It was all about substance—not vanity.

In short, both Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter were the antithesis of the shallowness that would someday characterize their worst successors.

Sadly, first ladies have often reflected the quality of the men they married; Mrs. Donald J. Trump was no exception. In many ways, she was an only-slightly-better mirror of her husband—the fraudster, reprobate, insufferable womanizer and liar.

Most Americans knew that, which was likely why he never won the popular vote. Seating him in the Oval Office was a disaster our country will not soon forget. The repercussions just go on and on.

When I look at the life of Rosalynn Carter, standing in that long line of presidents’ wives, there is one word that comes to mind: Contrast.

Rosalynn Carter didn’t look at marriage as a business contract, spelling out the riches she would gain in the event of a dissolution. Though she became an icon for gentility and character and considered her marriage to Jimmy Carter her greatest gift and responsibility, she was an active participant in his terms as governor and president—a real partner to the man she had known from childhood.

Jimmy’s memories said it all: "Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished. She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me."

And, unlike some of the recent riffraff that has descended upon the White House, Rosalynn treasured and loved her lifetime partner, sharing moments of anguish, elation, success and abject failure.

She understood the man she was married to, and suffered—as his partner and lover—during his most difficult moments as a public servant. And there were many.

The Iran hostage situation was a staggering failure; the economy and inflation were dismal; and Jimmy Carter had been unable to fix them. Attributable, largely, to his chronic indecision—owing to his moral overthinking of every situation—his presidency never rose to greatness.

He was considered naïve, simple and far too honest—honest to the point of embarrassment—as when he openly admitted that he had, in fact, committed marital infidelities “in his heart.” Who publicly admits such a thing? Jimmy Carter did.

Rosalynn Carter bore the frustrations and disappointments of her husband and was always there to hold his hand, in partnership and love. She didn’t care that he didn’t get a professional, daily comb-over, and she never complained that his face—lacking the orange spray paint—could have used a bit more color.

The passing of First Lady Rosalynn Carter, humanitarian, teacher, co-POTUS and a voice of America’s forgotten idealism, affected me deeply. I suspect that there are many other Americans who spent a few moments with tears rolling down their cheeks as they contemplated her life.

I’m not suggesting that there haven’t been other great ex-first ladies. Certainly, the names of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, Betty Ford, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama will hold a reverent place in history. They all had a profound impact both during and after the presidencies of their husbands, partnering in the burdens of presidential responsibilities, championing worthwhile causes, cultivating friendships with other world leaders, blunting assorted presidential faux pas and working to make America and our planet a safer, kinder, and better place to live—all while preserving their own individuality and personal autonomy.

Despite Rosalynn’s great love for family and home and her deep beliefs, she was a powerful voice for women and was passionate about the legal right of every woman to make decisions about their own bodies.

She was a great lady. But when it was time, there was no fanfare. She slipped from life with her treasured family by her side, and the world lost a truly fine human being.

Sadly, Rosalynn’s death serves as a reminder to all of us, just how far we have fallen as a country—how America has lost its idealism and created a perpetual circus of mediocrity, corruption and insidious deterioration, threatening the very survival of our Founding Fathers’ dreams.

Our nation is not defined by its problems. There will always be problems, but problems are not solved by electing crude obstructionists, mouthy assholes, fanatical conspiracists and senators who think it’s fine to have fisticuffs in the legislative chambers. What does define a nation is the quality of its leadership, and Americans need to make damned-well sure that we never go back to the corruption and vulgarity of the Trump years.

The author is a retired businessman, novelist, columnist and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and their adorable and ferocious “Poppy.”

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