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Presidents, fellow first ladies gather for Rosalynn Carter's services

Former President Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn's husband of 77 years, was in attendance despite being in hospice care for the past 10 months.
Presidents, fellow first ladies gather for Rosalynn Carter's services
Posted at 8:47 AM, Nov 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-29 07:43:00-05

Presidents and fellow first ladies gathered in Atlanta to pay respects to Rosalynn Carter. 

Carter, who was married to former President Jimmy Carter, died at home on Nov. 19 at the age of 96.

A memorial service took place Tuesday at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church to honor Rosalynn Carter's life. Music filled the church as family members and notable guests looked on.

Despite 99-year-old Jimmy Carter being in hospice care for the past 10 months, he sat in attendance, in a wheelchair with a blanket, to bid a final farewell to his wife of 77 years.

U.S. President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff also attended the service, in addition to every living former first lady: Melania Trump, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. Former President Bill Clinton was also in attendance.

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter have four children and 22 grandchildren, some of whom took part in her services.

The Carters' grandchildren served as honorary pallbearers and helped carry Rosalynn's casket into the church

Chip Carter, Rosalynn's son, was the first to speak at her ceremony.

"My mother was the glue that held our family together," Chip began.

He delivered an emotional speech full of jokes and memories, helping paint a picture of the dynamic woman she was.

Chip joked about his mother's competitive nature, showcasing her lightheartedness and ability to have fun — like her perfectly disguised Halloween costume as a secret service agent, which allowed her to go unnoticed all night while she took her grandchildren and great-grandchildren trick-or-treating.

Chip spoke of Rosalynn's time as a mother, a wife and as a pillar in politics.

He recalled the time she told him he "could do anything for 20 minutes, except hold your breath."

Chip, who spoke of his mother's influence, recited one of her mantras: "A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they need to go." 

Chip closed his speech with loving words, saying, "My mother, Rosalynn Carter, was the most beautiful woman I've ever met — and pretty to look at, too."

Following Chip, longtime aide and friend Kathy Cade took the stage.

Cade spoke of Rosalynn's accomplishments, and her passion to give voice to those less powerful — while getting those with power to listen.

Cade described Rosalynn as "a remarkable person, one of the true, good people of this world." 

She said the best way to honor Rosalynn's life was to continue her legacy of helping the most vulnerable. 

Journalist Judy Woodruff, who covered the Carters extensively, also paid tribute to the former first lady.

She spoke of Rosalynn's genuine and grounded nature, saying millions of lives are better because of her work.

She also addressed her role in the White House, saying she was a first lady who went above and beyond in her duties.

She joked of the time Rosalynn took a "crash course" in Spanish in preparation for a meeting. 

"I will never forget the looks of some of the Latin leaders," she said, as they realized they were dealing with such a close and powerful representative to the president of the United States.

Woodruff said once Rosalynn was asked why she campaigned five days a week, 20 hours a day, for her husband's presidency.

"It's a labor of love," Woodruff recalled her saying, adding that this way she would have no regrets. "I am doing everything I can possibly do."

Of her impact as a first lady, and as a wife, Woodruff said, "without Rosalynn Carter, I don't think there would have been a President Carter."

An emotional Amy Lynn Carter, Rosalynn's daughter, read aloud a letter from her father Jimmy, written to his wife 75 years ago when he was away at the Navy. She said she chose to share some of his words, as he could not speak at the service. 

"When I see you, I fall in love with you all over again," said the letter, in part.

Others to join the stage included Rosalynn's grandson, Jason Carter, who garnered many laughs throughout his speech. 

He said that in addition to being his own grandmother, "she was like everybody's grandmother in a lot of ways."

He shared a moment he visited Rosalynn in the hospital, when she was given a cane.

"It's not a cane," he recalled her saying."It's a trekking pole."

Many of the speeches alluded to this same joking nature of Rosalynn's.

Jason closed his speech saying as he watched his grandmother walk down the hospital hall with that "trekking pole," he prayed people would never lose sight of that path.

Music and scripture readings continued throughout.

Pastor Tony Lowden, Rosalynn and Jimmy's personal pastor, closed the ceremony with words of his own.

The program at the tribute service featured a number of iconic images of the former first lady — such as her testifying before Congress and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom — showcasing exactly the kind of trailblazer she was.

On Wednesday, Carter will be officially laid to rest in a private burial at the Carter family home in Plains, Georgia, where she and the former president lived the entirety of their lives together, except when he served as governor and president.

Three days of ceremonies for the former first lady kicked off on Monday with a motorcade through Atlanta. 

SEE MORE: Rosalynn Carter leaves legacy of mental health advocacy


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