Rosalynn Carter tributes highlight her reach as first lady, humanitarian and small-town Baptist

Rosalynn Carter tributes highlight her reach as first lady, humanitarian and small-town Baptist
By The Associated Press
Nov. 27, 2023 | AMERICUS, Georgia
By The Associated Press Nov. 27, 2023 | 11:04 AM | AMERICUS, Georgia

Rosalynn Carter embarked on her final journey Monday to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center as her family began three days of memorials for the former first lady and global humanitarian who died Nov. 19 at the age of 96.

Family including Rosalynn Carter's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren watched as her casket was placed in a hearse Monday morning outside Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in the Carters’ native Sumter County in south Georgia. Onlookers huddled beside the road on a breezy, chilly morning.

The motorcade made its first stop at Rosalynn Carter's alma mater, the nearby Georgia Southwestern State University. The Carters' four children — Jack, Chip, Jeff and Amy — watched as wreaths of white flowers were placed beside a statue of their mother on the campus.

From there, the family motorcade began its trip of more than 140 miles (225 kilometers) to Atlanta, where Rosalynn Carter will lie in repose at The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.

The library will be open from 6 to 10 p.m., offering the most direct opportunity for the public to pay their respects during the three-day tribute. Two funerals, set for Tuesday in Atlanta and Wednesday in the Carters' tiny hometown of 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. Motorcade routes will be open throughout the schedule. Rosalynn Carter's burial Wednesday in Plains is private.

It is not known whether the former president, who is 99 and in his 10th month of hospice care, will take part in the events. Those close to his immediate family have said he will make every effort as he grieves his partner of more than 77 years.

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.”

detailed schedule is available online. Events will be streamed and broadcast by independent media.

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

At Georgia Southwestern State University, where the former first lady graduated in 1946 when it was Georgia Southwestern College, a few hundred gathered as the Carter family arrived for a short wreath-laying ceremony. The campus is home to the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, which she founded to advocate for the millions of unpaid caregivers in American households.

“Mrs. Carter wanted a more caring society,” Jennifer Olsen, the institute's leader, said ahead of the ceremony. “You can see that in whether it was the international work that she did with President Carter or things right here in Sumter County. So it’s perfectly fitting to me that the Caregiver Institute is the first stop.”

Elizabeth Laudig, a registered nurse from Dallas, said she drove 12 hours to be in Georgia this week, starting with the wreath-laying ceremony. Laudig, 54, 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 arrives in Atlanta, a brief service of repose was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. — before public access — at the Carter Presidential Center.

The campus, near downtown, includes the library and museum, and The Carter Center. 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.

Streets around the campus will be closed Monday. Parking and a shuttle will be available at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 435 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta.

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. Other former first ladies and possibly former presidents are expected, as well.

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 also will eat a funeral meal with the Carter family the day of the service.

During her Sunday School hour, Fuller reminded her fellow Maranatha members that they are expected to provide dessert. “Whatever you want to bring is fine,” Fuller told them as she explained drop-off instructions. “Spread the word if you don't mind.”

Former and current U.S. Secret Service agents assigned to the Carter detail, walk next to the hearse carrying the casket of former first lady Rosalynn Carter at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus, Ga., Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. The former first lady died on Nov. 19. She was 96. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)