Rosalynn Carter: ‘Cool Grandma’ and Woman with ‘Boundless Passion For Action’
Jimmy Carter, presidents and every living first lady pay respects.
Rosalynn Carter was honored in a memorial service Tuesday where the crowded pews included a rare front-row gathering of President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, past presidents, all of the living former first ladies and her 99-year-old husband, Jimmy Carter.
Eulogies from tearful family members and friends paid tribute to the former first lady at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta to hymns and classical music of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus. The ceremony marked the second of three days of public events celebrating Carter, 96, who died at her home on Nov. 19 in Plains, Georgia. Her death was announced two days after she entered hospice care and six months after she was diagnosed with dementia. Her husband, the 39th president of the United States to whom she was married for 77 years, entered hospice care in February.
In addition to the Bidens, in attendance were former President Bill Clinton and former First Lady Secretary Hillary Clinton, and former First Ladies Laura Bush, Michelle Obama and Melania Trump. Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff, second gentleman, also attended.
The Carters’ son, James Earl “Chip” Carter III, shared tender and fun moments including the Halloween when Rosalynn Carter was dressed as a monarch butterfly, a symbolic gesture to one of her many causes.
“Mom was beautifully dressed as a monarch butterfly. The Secret Service agents were dressed … as Secret Service agents,” Chip Carter says, recalling her excitement about the evening. “She had been out so much and nobody recognized her.”
Longtime aide and then White House Director of Projects Kathryn Cade recalled fond memories of shopping for beads in a market in Ghana to bird watching at The Carter Center. She described Rosalynn Carter as a woman with a boundless passion for action and a tireless dedication to taking care of others. Carter was called a “Yankee Angel,” says Cade, “Because she brought hope where there was none.”
The alleviation of suffering was a focus of Carter’s life for as long as Cade knew her. So when the threatened monarch butterfly needed an advocate, Rosalynn Carter wrote then First Lady Michelle Obama and, a short time later, there was a garden on the south lawn of the White House, according to Cade.
When Rosalynn advocated for the Equal Rights Amendment, Cade notes Mrs. Carter lobbied for equal pay for her East Wing staff. “Something I will always be grateful for,” Cade says.
Former PBS Newshour journalist Judy Woodruff also spoke acknowledging the sitting president and first lady and former president and living first ladies. “Rosalynn Carter would have been so pleased that she brought you together on this day,” Woodruff says, prompting a round of applause.
The Carters’ daughter, Amy, gave an emotional recitation of a love letter that Jimmy Carter wrote to Rosalynn some 70 years ago. She read it, she explained, because her father could no longer speak. “My mom spent most of her life loving my dad,” she says. “Their partnership was a defining moment of her life.”
Jason Carter, grandson and chairman of board of trustees of The Carter Center also thanked all the first ladies and acknowledged the remarkable sisterhood they shared with Rosalynn Carter.
“We also welcome your lovely husbands,” he adds, prompting an outburst of laughter and applause from guests.
Jason Carter agreed with a comment from Georgia U.S. Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock who told him Rosalynn Carter doesn’t need a eulogy. Her life was a sermon.
He also described her as a “cool grandma” who did tai chi with a sword and still sent him birthday cards with a twenty-dollar bill until he was 45. He credited his grandmother with building The Carter Center from an idea into a powerhouse. And, he noted her “50-year climb” in advocating for mental health saved lives including lives in his own family.
His last memory of her at a hospital, he recalls during the service, was when she picked up a cane. It wasn’t a cane, she told him at the time, but a trekking pole.
“I watched her walk down that [hospital] hall,” he says. “I followed her and I just prayed we never lose sight of that path.”
The funeral service and interment for Rosalynn Carter will be held on Wednesday.
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