Seventy years later, he still grins and blushes when he talks about how much he loves her.
He describes their relationship using words like “equality” and “respect”.
And he didn’t hesitate to lean in for a smooch when the Atlanta Braves Kiss Cam found them last fall in the stands at Turner Field.
This is the 70-year marriage of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, second in longevity only to that of George H.W. and Barbara Bush, who celebrated their 72nd anniversary in January and had their Kiss Cam moment a few years ago at a Houston Astros game. Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, was America’s 39th President; George Bush, a Republican, her 41st.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates only about 6 percent of marriages last more than 50 years. So how did the Carters and Bushes – for the most part, political and philosophical opposites – land among this elite group of Americans?
Both couples married during a global conflict, in their late teens or early twenties. George and Barbara Bush met at a dance, where they shared her first kiss. Jimmy Carter found Rosalynn on the steps of a Methodist church in Plains, Georgia.
“The secret to a long marriage, she was the right person”
In a 2015 interview, Carter told Oprah Winfrey that he spotted Rosalynn while cruising around town, looking for someone with whom to spend some time after a beauty queen broke their date. The conversation he had with his mother when he got home that night went like this:
“She asked me, what do you think about Rosalynn? I said, ‘She’s the one I’m going to marry.’”
In starry-eyed youth, they pledged eternal devotion, but certainly, it must have taken more than love and romance to sustain seven decades of togetherness. These marriages have lasted through common challenges: the uncertainty of war, long periods of separation, frequent moves, and political pressures. The Carters endured the death of their grandson, Jeremy, just last year. George and Barbara lost a daughter, Robin, to leukemia in 1953.
Quoted in Behind Every Successful President: The Hidden Power and Influence of America’s First Ladies, Barbara Bush said those hardships helped shape and strengthen her marriage.
“I think that when you have a child die and you survive, and you’ve been through a war and you survive, and you build a business and you survive, you either grow apart or together,” she said. “We always turned to each other.”
The Carters have also made a point of turning to each other, whether to pursue activities new to them both – like fly fishing and downhill skiing – or simply resolving any differences before going to bed each night.
But when asked about the secret to his long-lasting marriage, Jimmy Carter didn’t launch into a long-winded laundry list, didn’t begin with “don’t go to bed angry” or “show your love every day”. Instead, he began where his words of advice will do the most good: at the beginning.
“The secret to a long marriage, she was the right person,” Carter said, with a broad smile. “That’s the first thing.”