‘Happy birthday. I love you and am proud of you’: Rosalynn Carter turns 96

The family says she is doing well along with former President Jimmy Carter at their home in Plains.
Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 6:43 PM EDT

PLAINS, Ga. (WALB) - Happy birthday, Rosalynn Carter! Friday, the former first lady turned 96 years old.

We’ve seen Rosalynn throughout the years right by her husband for President Jimmy Carter’s side, but we’ve also seen her stand-alone; through her fight for monarch butterflies and through her mission to bring awareness to mental health and caregivers. Since being diagnosed with dementia back in May, Mrs. Carter has been resting at home in Plains with Jimmy Carter who has been in hospice care for seven months. Her family said she is doing well on her birthday.

“I think she’s outlived all the women in our family,” said Allethea Smith-Wall, Rosalynn Carter’s sister.

On Carter’s 96th birthday, her sister, Allethea Smith, said she thinks of many great memories throughout the years — like when she and Rosalynn worked together at the peanut warehouse, or when the former first lady became a caregiver at such a young age.

“So she took her responsibilities. I don’t think she ever complained about them,” Smith-Wall said.

But one of Allethea’s most cherished memories with her sister is one she shared with her earlier in August. Smith visited her sister and brought her a picture of the former first lady with her father.

In a recent visit, Rosalynn Carter's sister Allethea Smith Wall said she could remember things despite having dementia.(walb)

“When I handed her the photo she said, ‘That’s my daddy.’ Put her hand over her heart, and said that’s the best Christmas present I’ve ever had, and teared up,” Smith-Wall said.

Though Rosalynn is living with dementia, her sister feels positive about her condition.

“She’s doing as well as a 96-year-old for her age,” Smith-Wall said.

She added that she watched Rosalynn go from the small town of Plains to the White House with the same graceful caring personality she grew up with. For Smith-Wall, it’s been an honor to look back at all her older sister’s accomplishments and humanitarian work.

“Happy birthday. I love you and am proud of you,” she said.

Rosalynn’s family isn’t the only one celebrating the former first lady on her birthday.

At the heart of Rosalynn Carter’s childhood garden, plenty of people have visited to not only feel closer to the former First Lady on her special day but also look at the “Dancing Monarch Butterfly” sculpture which has a deeper meaning.

The tall sculpture was presented to Rosalynn in 2022 for her birthday. If you look closely at the tree, there are eight roots and 18 monarch butterflies. Something the artist Peter Hazel did to represent the former first lady’s birthday.

“As a matter of fact, when we put the tree up last year she said ‘These are for me?’ It was so cute. It was just 10 years ago I was like ‘Oh, I think I’m going to be an artist.’ And after 10 years, to have an honor like that, it’s amazing,” Hazel said. “It’s hard to describe an honor like this for such great people.”

People are also honoring Rosalynn’s humanitarian work. Richard Lui, an MSNBC news anchor, has been working on a documentary in honor of Mrs. Carter for seven years. The documentary, called “Unconditional,” focuses on Carter’s passions: mental health and caregiving.

MSNBC anchor Richard Lui worked on a documentary focusing on Rosalynn's passions: mental health and caregiving.

“What an honor it is to have this movie about mental health and caregiving, but for the birthday of the godmother of the very idea of mental health and caregiving,” Lui said.

"The Dancing Monarch Butterfly" sculpture in Plains honors Rosalynn Carter at her childhood garden.(walb)

Lui said he was able to insert his own personal story into the film as he himself had to become a caregiver for his father after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“It affects all of us. And it’s no different. Whether you’re in front of the camera or behind the camera. And really to underline that what happens behind the camera in life is most important,” he said.

He added that the unique journey of caregivers and those experiencing mental health issues is a conversation everyone should be a part of, especially future generations. That conversation is something he says Carter started early on.

“I hope that I can even do a smidgen, a small part, a slice of what you have done in your 96 years and will continue to do, and happy birthday,” Lui said.

A free showing of “Unconditional” will happen at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18 at Plains High School. Rosalynn Carter’s birthday celebrations will also continue on Saturday, Aug 19 with a butterfly release and dedication at her childhood garden at 10:00 a.m.