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Politics

Jimmy Carter Set to Lead Presidents, First Ladies in Mourning and Celebrating Rosalynn Carter

November 28, 2023

ATLANTA — Rosalynn Carter will be memorialized Tuesday with classical music and beloved hymns, some of her favorite Biblical passages, and a rare gathering of all living U.S. first ladies and multiple presidents, including her 99-year-old husband Jimmy Carter.

The tribute service at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta falls on the second 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 as she lay in repose at The Jimmy Carter Presidential Center.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, longtime friends of the Carters, lead the list of dignitaries joining the widowed former president in Atlanta. Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with former first ladies Melania Trump, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, will pay their respects, as will Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marty Kemp. Former Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush were invited but will not attend.

A Georgia State Patrol honor guard positions the casket of former first lady Rosalynn Carter at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, before a public repose. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, Pool)

Jimmy Carter’s participation in the events has been a day-by-day question; he is 10 months into home hospice care. The Carter Center confirmed his plans to attend the Tuesday service. It will be his first public appearance since September, when he and Rosalynn Carter rode together in the Plains Peanut Festival parade, visible only through open windows in a Secret Service vehicle. Jimmy Carter, who was with his wife during her final hours, did not appear publicly during any part of a public motorcade through and wreath-laying ceremony Monday at Rosalynn Carter’s alma mater, Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.

The Carters married in 1946, their 77-plus years together making them the longest-married presidential couple in U.S. history.

“My grandmother, in addition to being a partner to my grandfather, was a force on her own,” said Jason Carter, who will be among the speakers Tuesday.

Rosalynn Carter has been praised for a half-century of advocacy for better mental health care in America and reducing stigma attached to mental illness. She brought attention to the tens of millions of people who work as unpaid caregivers in U.S. households. And she’s gained new acclaim for how integral she was to her husband’s political rise and in his terms as Georgia’s governor and the 39th president.

Jason Carter, himself a former state senator and one-time Democratic nominee for governor, called her “the best politician in the family,” a distinction Jimmy Carter never disputed.

“My wife is much more political,” the former president told The Associated Press in 2021.

Students watch as family members participate in a wreath laying ceremony to honor former first lady Rosalynn Carter at the Rosalynn Carter Health & Human Services complex on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in Americus, Ga. The former first lady died on Nov. 19. She was 96. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, Pool)

Indeed, the Carters, perhaps much more because of him than her, never settled comfortably into Washington power circles, even after winning the White House. They were later on the periphery of the unofficial “Presidents Club” that has made friends out of former White House occupants who once operated as rivals and reconvenes publicly — in whole or in part — for inaugurations and funerals.

Biden, who plans to eulogize Jimmy Carter at his state funeral when the time comes, is indisputably the friendliest ally Carter has had in the Oval Office since he left Washington in 1981. But Carter, who lost reelection in a landslide to Ronald Reagan, got a cool reception from his earlier Democratic successors, Clinton and Barack Obama, as both men tried to steer clear of the perceived political failure. Rosalynn Carter, according to some people close to her, was not happy with that treatment.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter confirmed they voted in the 2016 Georgia Democratic presidential primary for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. Jimmy Carter also rankled some of his successors with criticism of their foreign and military policy, especially George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Carters had perhaps the wildest relationship with Trump. Jimmy Carter aligned with Trump on his willingness to talk to isolationist and authoritarian North Korea. But he also suggested Trump’s election in 2016 was illegitimate. Trump answered by calling Carter “the worst” of all U.S. presidents. He’s modified the charge as he campaigns for the 2024 Republican nomination, telling audiences “Jimmy Carter is the happiest man alive” because Biden has usurped the dubious distinction. Trump offered the quip as recently as Nov. 18, the day after Jason Carter announced that his grandmother had entered end-of-life care at home.

A black mourning drape over the oil canvas portrait of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, painted by American artist George Augusta in 1984, hangs in the White House, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023 in Washington. (AP Photo/Jack Auresto)

Trump’s absence Tuesday will ensure no awkward encounters with the Carter family or with Biden as the two men appear to be on course for a rematch of the 2020 general election. For Melania Trump, it will mark a rare public appearance; she has remained largely absent in her husband’s bid for a comeback.

The Carters did grow close to their 1976 opponents, Gerald and Betty Ford, after that campaign. Jimmy Carter said he maintained a mostly strong relationship with President George H. W. Bush, another Republican. But the Carters outlived both Fords, the elder Bush and Barbara Bush.

Jimmy Carter is the longest-lived president; Rosalynn Carter was the second-longest lived first lady, trailing only Bess Truman, who died at 97.

The service Tuesday will feature music from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and country music legends Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, friends of the Carters through their work with Habitat for Humanity. Family members will read Bible passages. The Carters’ personal pastor, Tony Lowden; Kathryn Cade, a one-time White House adviser in the first lady’s office; and journalist Judy Woodruff will speak.

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.

 

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