Inside the White House (Cont'd): Jimmy Sleeps Well, Amy's Mad at Mom & Rosalynn Is Content
01/07/1980 at 01:00 AM EST
In the Dec. 24-31 special double issue of PEOPLE, First Lady Rosalynn Carter was named one of the 25 Most Intriguing People of 1979. For that occasion she agreed to the most extensive interview she has given during her White House years. This is the concluding installment of that interview, conducted by PEOPLE Managing Editor Richard B. Stolley and Correspondent Clare Crawford-Mason.
Ever since Betty Ford went public with her drug problem and Joan Kennedy and Joy Baker talked about their struggles with alcoholism, it has become more and more apparent that the role of the political wife can be a harrowing one. Have you had any such problems in coping with the pressures of public life?
None that I know of, I think possibly because I really enjoy politics. I like to get out and shake hands and talk to people. I love the intrigues of politics. I've always been involved in Jimmy's strategy meetings. I think if he went out and did all of that and I just sat at home and waited for him to tell me what he'd done, it would be very bad for me. I saw it in Georgia. The wives who didn't enjoy politics had a really hard time. When Jimmy came home at night we always talked about what he had done that day and what I had done that day, so I've always felt like a part of it all. It's frustrating for our son Jack, down in Calhoun, Ga., when he watches TV or reads the paper and sees the criticisms and doesn't know what's happening. I know, if a bill is defeated in one committee, what we're going to do to get it passed in another one. If I wasn't involved and informed about things like that, it would be devastating.
In times of crisis like the one in Iran, ho w does your role change? Is there anything you can do to help your husband relax when he gets upstairs?
Well, of course we discuss the situation, and I can give him encouragement and not just criticize. I've learned that I can also help by making some decisions myself that I might have talked over with him if something like this weren't going on. But Jimmy is a strong person, and he takes problems in stride.
How is he bearing up?
He's in touch with those who are monitoring it constantly, he talks with his advisers, and I can see him just plotting in his mind, "If I do this, what will they do?" He thinks it through very carefully, and then he's very strong about it.
Does he sleep well?
Yes, but not as much as he did, because he stays up a little later to see the reports. I like to stay up late, he likes to go to bed early, about 10. But he gets up about 5 or 5:30 and goes to the office and has two good hours of work. He'd rather work in the morning, and then by 4:30 in the afternoon he's through for the day. He's confident that he's doing all he possibly can.
Being First Lady submits you to an extraordinary amount of social pressure. How do you respond to it?
One thing I learned early when Jimmy was governor is that you can't dress and have your hair and your fingernails perfect all the time. When Jimmy was elected governor, Amy was about 3 years old, and I tried to keep her perfect too. You can't do it. Jimmy used to drill that into me. In Plains we didn't have a restaurant, so Jimmy would bring everybody home for lunch from the warehouse, and I would fix them sandwiches. The house might not be spotless, but he would sit me down and say, "You did the best you could—that's all you can do." You learn that if you're going to do the things you want to do, you can't be perfect, and once you accept that you can relax.
Has your mothering of Amy been different, because you're in the White House, from the way you raised your sons?
I think so. When my boys were growing up we were very busy too, but I was always there. I went to work in the warehouse in the morning, but first I'd get them ready for school. They made up their beds and threw their dirty clothes out in the hall, and I would pick them up and put them in the washing machine. I cooked, I did everything for them. Now I make time to be with Amy where I didn't with them because we were together all the time. I just took them for granted. I find that I put on my schedule the time Amy comes home from school—it's different every day—because I like to be there when she comes in. When my other children came home I didn't worry about being there because I knew I'd be home that night and every night.
When you and the President were dating in Annapolis, what kind of future did you foresee? Did you hope he would be an admiral or chief of naval operations someday?
I can't think I ever had ambitions like that for Jimmy. He said he thought about being an admiral or CNO someday, but I thought it was so glamorous just to be in the Navy traveling all over the world, because I had never been out of Plains. It was exciting to me just to be in Annapolis. I guess I was in love and looking forward to being a Navy wife.
What do you think your greatest achievement has been since the inauguration?
Probably the mental health report [a blue-ribbon commission's call for more state and federal spending, with emphasis on small community facilities], because I worked so hard on it and because it turned out to be something good and do-able instead of just something that ends up on a shelf, which you always worry about with those commissions. The legislation is now in Congress, and I hope it will pass before this session is out. I'm very pleased about that.
And your biggest disappointment?
The ERA. I just want to get it passed so badly. It's been one of the most frustrating things I've ever been involved with—to know what is right and what should be done and yet to see it dangling because of a few votes. I've spent more time on it than anyone realizes, and so has Jimmy.
Yet the National Organization for Women recently decided not to endorse your husband for reelection no matter who his opponent may be. How do you feel about that?
I am disappointed that NOW has taken this position, but most women's groups are supporting Jimmy because they know the facts. This President has done more than any President in history for women, and he's absolutely committed to getting the ERA passed.
Since you do such an enormous amount of work for your husband, and indeed for the country, has it ever occurred to you that the First Lady ought to be paid, either by the government or by the President out of his salary?
Not really. I've always worked with Jimmy. In our business, if I got paid a salary I wrote my own check out of our warehouse books—me paying me. But it was helpful to know that it was my money that I had earned. I think maybe governors' wives should be paid. Some states pay a governor only about $20,000 a year with no allowance for the house. But I never had that problem, and being paid as First Lady never occurred to me.
It's been reported that Amy is a John Travolta fan. Did you have the classic family argument over whether she got to see Saturday Night Fever?
Yes. She's never seen it, and she hates me for it. We looked at the version of the movie they did for airplanes that had part of the bad language cut out, but it had everything else in it, and I wouldn't let her see that either. I'm sure she'll never get over it.
Would you want Amy to marry a politician?
I hope Amy doesn't feel she would not want to marry a politician—or that she wouldn't like the life of a political family. I think we need good people in government, and it's always been a challenge to me. I enjoy it.