GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — Jim Kratsas calls it a bittersweet moment.
“She was the very first first lady I ever met,” said Kratsas, who lives in Grand Haven.
Items from Rosalynn Carter, like a signed copy of her biography, fill his office.
“Mrs. Carter was so nice, so sweet, but at the same time, she was so bright,” said Kratsas.
Kratsas explains that in 1985, he took a job in Atlanta as the curator for the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, which details the Georgia native’s life and houses all of the documents and artifacts collected throughout his administration.
“It was a lot of work,” said Kratsas.
Through the position, Kratsas met the former president and Rosalynn several times.
“We were at a Christmas party and they told us to bring the family, so I brought my daughter and my wife then,” said Kratsas. “Mrs. Carter made a beeline over to us and said, ‘Jim, is this your daughter?’ I said, 'Yes,' and she said, ‘Oh, can I hold her?’ I said, 'Of course.' My daughter didn't really care for it, because she didn't know who it was, but that's okay.”
He says that during the 1988 Democratic National Convention, the former first lady even asked him to design an exhibit on women’s suffrage.
“She liked it quite a bit,” said Kratsas. “She wanted to know all about it and everything else. Mrs. Carter was such an activist.”
Kratsas notes Rosalynn, along with Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford, redefined the first lady role through their advocacy work.
“Mrs. Carter's biggest one was mental health issues,” said Kratsas. “She was huge on that and she was also very big on women's rights. I know her and Mrs. Ford, even though they opposed each other and ’76 campaign, they were both strongly for the ERA, Equal Rights Amendment. Mrs. Carter had quite a few causes and endeavors that she really made an impact on.”
He adds that the Carters became close with Gerald and Betty Ford after they ran against each other in the 1976 election. The couple attended their funerals in Grand Rapids.
They also came to West Michigan in 2014 for a speaking event at Grand Rapids Community College.
Kratsas hopes the nation will look back on Rosalynn’s best moments these next few days.
“I think it's sad for the United States, but the great thing is she lived to be 96, and she has left a lasting imprint on this country,” said Kratsas.