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Rosalynn Carter tributes highlight reach as first lady, humanitarian

Nov 27, 2023, 5:30 PM

Honor Guard members carry a casket with the remains former first lady Rosalynn Carter out of a hear...

Honor Guard members carry a casket with the remains former first lady Rosalynn Carter out of a hearse at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library on November 27, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. Funeral services for the former first lady continue today with a repose service that is open to members of the public who wish to pay their respects. Carter died peacefully in her Plains home on November 19 at the age of 96. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

AMERICUS, Ga. (AP) — Hundreds turned out to salute Rosalynn Carter on Monday with the former U.S. first lady and global humanitarian’s final journey from her rural hometown to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta as her family began three days of memorials following her death at age 96.

The former president, who is 99 and has spent the past 10 months in home hospice care, plans to attend a memorial church service Tuesday in Atlanta for his partner of more than 77 years, The Carter Center confirmed. Rosalynn Carter died on Nov. 19.

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The tributes started Monday morning as Rosalynn Carter’s casket traveled by motorcade through the Carters’ native Sumter County, where well-wishers gathered along the route in their tiny hometown of Plains and attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the college from which she graduated in 1946.

Lyndea Brown drove to the short ceremony at Georgia Southwestern State University from nearby Albany, saying she wanted to salute “a remarkable woman” who attended local cancer benefits and fought for rural health services.

“They were always real hometown people,” Brown said. “We don’t get presidents and first ladies like that anymore, people who have true hometown roots and understand what it’s like to grow corn and peanuts and whatever else and to struggle over health care.”

During the stop at Rosalynn Carter’s alma mater, her four children — Jack, Chip, Jeff and Amy — watched as wreaths of white flowers were placed beside a statue of their mother on the campus where she founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving to advocate for millions of unpaid caregivers in American households.

Generations of the Carter family — including the former first lady’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren — accompanied the hearse to Atlanta, where she was to lie in repose as members of the public paid respects Monday evening at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.

Two funerals, set for Tuesday in Atlanta and Wednesday in Plains, are for invited guests. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, longtime friends of the Carters, lead the dignitaries expected to attend the Atlanta service. Rosalynn Carter’s burial on Wednesday in Plains is private.

The schedule, a product of detailed planning that involved the former first couple, reflects the range of Rosalynn Carter’s interests and impact. That includes her advocacy for better mental health treatment and the elevation of caregiving, her role as Jimmy Carter’s closest adviser and her status as matriarch of Plains and Maranatha Baptist Church, where she and the former president served in various roles after leaving the White House in 1981.

“All over the world, people are celebrating her life,” said Kim Fuller, the Carters’ niece, while teaching a Bible lesson Sunday at Maranatha. “And of course, we’re coming into a week now where we’re gonna celebrate even more.”

Some well-wishers began honoring Rosalynn Carter soon after her death, including an uptick in visitors to the Carter Presidential Center campus.

“Mental health is more openly talked about” because of Rosalynn Carter’s work to reduce the stigma attached to the conditions, said Brendan Green, a high school guidance counselor who came from Chicago.
“She was a pioneer in that field,” Green said. “What a great legacy.”

Elizabeth Laudig, a registered nurse from Dallas, said she drove 12 hours to be in Georgia this week, starting with the wreath-laying ceremony in Americus. She said Rosalynn Carter’s emphasis on mental health and caregivers was especially inspiring to her as a nurse.

“She just quietly went about the business of trying to make the world a better place,” Laudig said. “You know, she was not a showy or extravagant first lady, but she was humble, you know, kind, hardworking, and got things done for people because she cared about people.”

After the motorcade arrived in Atlanta, the family joined the staff at the Carter Presidential Center for a short, private service.

The campus near downtown Atlanta includes the library and museum, and The Carter Center, where scores of people waited in line outside to pay their respects at the public viewing.

The former first couple founded the center in 1982 to champion democracy, mediate international conflicts, and fight disease in the developing world. Their work around the world redefined what former White House occupants can do after ceding political power.

Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander recalled Rosalynn Carter as a tough and fiercely intelligent advocate who in every respect was her husband’s “full and equal partner.”

“Her compassion, her ability to connect, her political savvy was something that helped build the support for all of our programs over the past 40 years,” Alexander told co-workers and the family.

The largest single service will be held Tuesday at Glenn Memorial Church on the Emory University campus. Emory helped the former first couple establish The Carter Center. Besides the Bidens, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, have announced plans to attend. Also expected are former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as former first ladies Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump, according to The Carter Center.

Glenn is a Methodist congregation. The Carters married in 1946 at Plains Methodist Church, where Rosalynn Carter attended growing up. She joined her husband as a Baptist throughout their marriage.

Her final services at Maranatha will reflect their small-town Protestant roots: Church members are invited and will eat a funeral meal with the Carter family the day of the service.
___
Associated Press reporters Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta, Sharon Johnson in Plains, Georgia, and Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed.

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Rosalynn Carter tributes highlight reach as first lady, humanitarian