ATLANTA — Rosalynn Carter was memorialized Tuesday as a matriarch who felt more comfortable among the impoverished and vulnerable than world leaders, as a rare gathering of all living U.S. first ladies and multiple presidents, including her 99-year-old husband Jimmy Carter in the front row, mourned her.

The tribute service at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta marked the second day of a three-day schedule of public events celebrating the former first lady and global humanitarian who died Nov. 19 at home in Plains, Georgia, at the age of 96. Tributes began Monday in the Carters’ native Sumter County and continued in Atlanta.

“My mother was the glue that held our family together through the ups and downs and thicks and thins of our family’s politics,” her son James Earl “Chip” Carter III said.

The former president, who is 10 months into home hospice care and hadn’t been seen in public since September, watched from his wheelchair, reclined a bit with his legs up and covered by a blanket with his wife’s face on it, with Chip and his daughter Amy holding his hands. Their other sons, Jeff and Jack, flanked them.


Former President Jimmy Carter arrives to attend a tribute service for his wife and former first lady Rosalynn Carter at Glenn Memorial Church on Tuesday in Atlanta. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

The former president stayed Monday night at The Carter Center, CEO Paige Alexander said, steps from where the former first lady lay in repose.

“He never wants to be very far from her,” she said. “He had a good night. He’s rested.”


President Biden and first lady Jill Biden, their longtime friends, were among the dignitaries. Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with former first ladies Melania Trump, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, paid their respects, as did Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Georgia’s U.S. senators and Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marty Kemp joined more than 1,000 people in the sanctuary. Former Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush were invited but will not attend.

The service reflected Rosalynn Carter’s status as a global figure while emphasizing her more private profile as a family matriarch who preferred a simple life and held a deep religious faith.

“She had met kings and queens, presidents, others in authority, powerful corporate leaders and celebrities,” Chip Carter said. “She said the people that she felt the most comfortable with and the people she enjoyed being with the most were those that lived in absolute abject poverty.”

The pews filled with political power players, but front and center were her children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren – all surrounding Jimmy Carter, who grieved not as a former president, but as her partner of 77 years.

James “Chip” Carter walks after speaking at a tribute service for his mother, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, at Glenn Memorial Church at Emory University on Tuesday in Atlanta. Brynn Anderson/Pool/Associated Press

The speakers came from many chapters of her long life: Chip as the son who recalled his once-shy mother coming into her own in business and politics; Kathryn Cade as the White House aide who stayed on as a close adviser as Rosalynn Carter helped build The Carter Center and its global reach; Judy Woodruff as a journalist who covered the Carter presidency; and Amy Carter, who read a love note her father wrote to her mother 75 years before.

“Their partnership and love story was a defining feature of her life,” Amy Carter said.


Cade described Rosalynn Carter’s time as first lady as “really just one chapter in a life that was about caring for others.”

Woodruff recalled Rosalynn Carter lobbying lawmakers, campaigning separately from her husband, attending Cabinet meetings and playing key roles — including being the first presidential adviser to suggest Camp David as a negotiating place for Epypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin. The decision led to historic peace accords between the two countries.

“Without Rosalynn Carter, I don’t believe there would have been a President Carter,” Woodruff said.

Amy Carter speaks during a tribute service for her mother and former first lady Rosalynn Carter on Tuesday in Atlanta. “Their partnership and love story was a defining feature of her life,” she said of her parents. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

It was Jimmy Carter’s first public appearance since entering hospice care, other than a brief ride with Rosalynn in September’s Plains Peanut Festival parade, where they were visible only through the open windows of a Secret Service vehicle. He was with his wife during her final hours, but did not appear publicly during earlier events at Rosalynn Carter’s alma mater, Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, and at his presidential library.

Alexander said the trip to Atlanta was “hard” for the former president but “this is her last trip up and it’s probably his, too. … He’s determined.”

The Carters married in 1946 and became the longest-married presidential couple in U.S. history. Jimmy Carter is the longest-lived president; Rosalynn Carter was the second-longest lived first lady, trailing only Bess Truman, who died at 97.


Praised for a half-century of advocacy for better mental health care in America and reducing stigmas attached to mental illness, she brought attention to the tens of millions of people who work as unpaid caregivers in U.S. households, and was acclaimed for how integral she was to her husband’s political rise and in his terms as Georgia’s governor and the 39th president.

Chip Carter recalled how his mom got him into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction.

“My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever met,” he said. “And pretty to look at, too.”

Jason Carter, her grandson, got laughs as he acknowledged the “remarkable sisterhood” of the First Ladies in attendance, and then greeted the “lovely husbands” of Hillary Clinton and Jill Biden.

“She was so down to earth, y’all, it was amazing,” Jason Carter said as he shared family stories, including the time when his grandmother made pimento sandwiches and handed them out on a Delta flight.

“She loved people,” he said. “She was a cool grandma.”


Country music stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, family friends of the Carters and their successors as Habitat for Humanity ambassadors, performed a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” toward the end of the service.

Rosalynn Carter’s funeral will take place Wednesday in Plains, with an invitation-only service at Maranatha Baptist Church, where the Carters have been members since returning to Georgia after his presidency. She will be buried after a private graveside service on a plot the couple will share, visible from the front porch of the home they built before Jimmy Carter’s first political campaign in 1962.


Associated Press Writer Fatima Hussein contributed to this report.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: