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Former first lady, mental health advocate Rosalynn Carter dies at 96

Nov. 19 (UPI) -- For 77 years, Rosalynn Carter supported her husband during his transient service as a Navy officer, his success as a peanut farmer, his role as a Georgia state lawmaker and during his tenure in the Peach State governor's mansion.

She died around 2:10 p.m. Sunday at her home in Plains, Ga., where she was born and raised and lived with the man who also took her to the White House to serve as first lady, her longtime husband, former President Jimmy Carter.

She was 96.

"Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished," Carter said in a statement. "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."

Rosalynn Carter was born on Aug. 18, 1927, the oldest of four children.

She was said to have had plans to attend Georgia State College for Women to study interior design, but those were put aside after she first met Jimmy Carter while he was at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md. She married him in 1946 when he was an ensign in the Navy.

Because of her husband's rising military career in the relatively new Navy nuclear submarine program, the couple were constantly on the move, and all four of their children were born in different states: John William in Virginia, James Earl III in Hawaii, Donnell Jeffrey in Connecticut. Their only daughter, Amy Lynn, was born in Georgia after Jimmy Carter left the Navy.

Rosalynn Carter actively campaigned for her husband as he sought and won elections, first as a state lawmaker and in 1970 as governor of Georgia. During this time, she began focusing on state campaigns to promote mental health initiatives.

During Jimmy Carter's time in the White House, Rosalynn Carter managed routine duties and special projects, in addition to attending Cabinet meetings and major briefings. She also served as the president's personal emissary to Latin American countries.

The first lady advocated for performing arts, inviting classical artists from around the world to perform in Washington.

She also continued working with her passion for programs related to mental health, the community and the elderly, serving as honorary chairperson of the President's Commission on Mental Health from 1977 to 1978.

In 1982, the Carters founded the Carter Center, a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization with the stated goal of "resolving conflicts, advancing democracy and human rights, preventing diseases and improving mental healthcare."

Rosalynn Carter also created and chaired the Carter Center's Mental Health Task Force, an advisory board of experts, consumers and advocates promoting change in the mental health field.

She also served on the policy advisory board of The Atlanta Project, a Carter Center program addressing social issues related to poverty and as president of the board of directors of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving.

She was diagnosed with dementia in May and on Friday began hospice care in her Plains home.

At her side there -- and also in hospice care since February -- was her 99-year-old husband, Jimmy Carter.

Besides the former president, she is survived by her children, Jack, Chip, Jeff, and Amy -- and 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. A grandson died in 2015.

"Besides being a loving mother and extraordinary first lady, my mother was a great humanitarian in her own right," Chip Carter said in a statement.

"Her life of service and compassion was an example for all Americans. She will be sorely missed, not only by our family but by the many people who have better mental healthcare and access to resources for caregiving today."

The Carter Center has established a memorial website in her name, which calls for donations to its mental health program in lieu of flowers. It will soon be updated with details regarding public memorial services.