A member of the Georgia State Patrol honor guard stands at the casket before the funeral service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter at Maranatha Baptist Church, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Plains, Ga. The former first lady died on Nov. 19. She was 96. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)
PLAINS, Ga. (AP) — Rosalynn Carter received her final farewells Wednesday in the same tiny town where she and Jimmy Carter were born, forever their home base as they climbed to the White House and traveled the world for humanitarian causes.
The former first lady, who died Nov. 19 at the age of 96, had her intimate funeral at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, where she and her husband spent decades welcoming guests and where a wooden cross Jimmy Carter fashioned in his woodshop is displayed. Earlier tributes were held in nearby Americus and in Atlanta.
The former president was in attendance in his wheelchair.
Rosalynn Carter will be buried in a plot she will one day share with her husband of 77 years. The former president, now 99, left home hospice care to attend Tuesday’s memorial, where two other presidents and all the living first ladies joined the extended Carter family before Wednesday’s more intimate hometown funeral.
Vernita Sampson, a school bus driver and Plains native, drove a group of area high school students, all wearing Future Farmer of America jackets, to downtown Plains to pay tribute to the former first lady and soak up the history of the day.
“They were people you could relate to, not this high standard where they were up here and, you know, we’re all down there,” said Sampson, 58. “We never get used to death, no matter who we are or how long you have lived,”′ but she said she and the students came “to celebrate that she did live a long life, a very happy and productive life, that gives you joy.”
Jimmy Carter met his future wife only a few days after her mother delivered her.
“She was born just a few years after women got the right to vote in this small town in the South where people were still plowing their fields behind mules,” grandson Jason Carter said during the memorial service Tuesday at Atlanta’s Glenn Memorial Church.
Coming from that town of about 600 — then and now — Rosalynn Carter changed lives across America and the developing world, her grandson said. Jimmy Carter’s closest political adviser and a political force in her own right, she advocated for better mental health care and underappreciated caregivers in millions of U.S. households. Traveling overseas, she fought disease, famine and the abuse of women and girls.
Even so, she never stopped being the small-town Southerner whose cooking repertoire leaned heavily on mayonnaise and pimento cheese, Jason Carter said as he told endearing stories about his grandmother.
The Atlanta events reflected the grandest chapters of Rosalynn Carter’s life. Mourners viewed her casket steps from The Carter Center she and her husband co-founded after leaving the White House, then she was honored at a service filled with the music of a symphony chorus, a majestic pipe organ and fellow Habitat for Humanity ambassadors Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton and the first ladies joined Jimmy Carter and their four children in the front row.
The proceedings Wednesday underscore the simpler constants in Rosalynn Carter’s life. The sanctuary in Plains seats fewer people than the balcony at Glenn Memorial in Atlanta. Maranatha, tucked away at the edge of Plains where the town gives way to cotton fields, has no powerful organ; instead the cross he made and offering plates he turned on his lathe.
Church members, who were included in the invitation-only ceremony, rarely talk of ”President Carter” or “Mrs. Carter.” They are supporting “Mr. Jimmy” as he grieves for “Ms. Rosalynn.”
Two of the Carters’ sons, Jeff and Jack, will speak about their mother. James Earl “Chip” Carter III and Amy Carter spoke during the Atlanta service.
Pastor Tony Lowden, the Carters’ longtime friend and personal minister, will officiate and offer a eulogy. He also officiated Tuesday, emphasizing that Rosalynn Carter’s work, from the Georgia statehouse when Jimmy Carter was governor to the 120-plus countries that she visited, was an extension of her faith.
“Oh, how she loved J.C. — Jimmy Carter. I also have to tell you that she loved J.C. — Jesus Christ,” Lowden said, recalling how she read the Bible in English and Spanish and took seriously the New Testament teaching that “faith without works is dead.”
“When she read the word of God, it went to her head, and then it went to her heart” and then into action, Lowden said. ”From her head to her heart to her hands, and she made it a habit. If you love our first lady who was global, make it a habit. Take your passion and make it a habit. Link your passion up with compassion. Then there will be peace. Then there will be love.”
Barricades were set up along the route for the public to pay their respects.
The motorcade will carry Rosalynn Carter from Marantha for the last time through the town where she lived for more than 80 of her 96 years, passing holiday lights and decorations including a photo collage in front of the downtown tree featuring the “First Lady of Plains.”
Her casket will pass the old high school where she was valedictorian during World War II and Plains Baptist Church where she and the former president were once outliers arguing for racial integration. The motorcade will then pass through the commercial district where she became Jimmy’s indispensable partner in their peanut business, the old train depot where she helped run the winning 1976 presidential campaign, and Plains Methodist Church where she married young Navy Lt. Jimmy Carter at the age of 18, in 1946.
Then it will return, finally, to what locals call “the Carter compound,” property that includes their one-story ranch house, the pond where she fished and security outposts for the Secret Service agents who protected her for 47 years.
She will be buried in view of the front porch of the home where the 39th American president still lives.
By BILL BARROW Associated Press
This story has been updated to correct pastor’s surname to Lowden, not Snowden.
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