A news photo taken five years ago on a Habitat for Humanity job site shows a married couple pausing from their volunteer duties. He has a tool belt and a level. She’s holding a hammer. They’re wearing jeans, matching denim shirts and white helmets. And they’re sneaking a kiss.

The moment captured by former Atlanta Journal Constitution photographer Ben Gray would be romantic regardless of the pair’s identity. It’s made even more poignant considering that former President Jimmy Carter was diagnosed with brain cancer a year earlier, that his wife, Roslyn, would survive major surgery two years later, and that the pair would survive to celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary this past Wednesday.

For a couple who occupied America’s most famous residence for just four years, the Carters have had a profound, lasting impact on our country. But of everything he and they have done — in the White House, in founding the Carter Center, his winning the Nobel Prize as a broker of Middle East peace, even his friendship with Elvis Presley — Jimmy Carter counts his love affair with Roslyn as life’s greatest achievement.

“It always gets applause when I mention it publicly,” he recently told the AJC.

And so it should. A report released by the U.S. Census Bureau not three months before the Carters of Plains, Georgia, celebrated their diamond anniversary gave us some sense of how rare it is. Of more than 6.6 million men in the U.S. hitched in the early ’70s, a little more than half made it to the 25-year mark with their spouse. Even fewer celebrated their 50th anniversaries. The Census Bureau says it stopped tallying 40th anniversaries “because of the small sample size.”

Never mind weddings, the average lifespan in the United States is just three years longer than the Carters have been married.

Longevity for its own sake is one thing, The Carters’ is a love story — they call it a partnership — they say has deepened with time. He tells an AJC interviewer they look for things to do together, read the Bible together in the evenings and try to “never go to sleep with any lingering resentment.”

But at its heart is romance: “Jimmy is really kind,” she says, “and he will hold out his hand, take my hand when we are walking down the street or sitting in the car. Squeeze my hand. Those kinds of things draw me closer to him.” And us to them.

Happy anniversary to the former president and first lady.

 

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