Former President Jimmy Carter, who entered hospice care in February, attended a memorial service Tuesday for his late wife, Rosalynn Carter, alongside a number of past and present White House occupants — including every current and former living first lady.
The 39th president appeared frail as he arrived in a wheelchair pushed by an aide, his legs covered by a woven blanket.
Rosalynn Carter died last week at age 96, two days after entering hospice care and several months after her family announced her dementia diagnosis.
Attendees at Tuesday’s service included President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Hillary Clinton, and former first ladies Laura Bush, Michelle Obama and Melania Trump.
The invitation-only service at Emory University in Atlanta was broadcast live on television for members of the public.
The Carters’ grandchildren served as honorary pallbearers, according to the Carter Center. Between performances by Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and its Chamber Chorus, country stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, who are family friends, sang the John Lennon song “Imagine.”
The Carters’ personal pastor, Tony Lowden, delivered opening remarks on Tuesday and is scheduled to lead a private funeral service at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, on Wednesday.
Amy Carter, the only daughter to the former president and first lady, said that she was addressing the room on behalf of her father, who no longer had the strength to speak to crowds. She read a love letter that her father sent to her mother during his Navy service, 75 years ago: “When I see you, I fall in love with you all over again. Does that seem strange to you? It doesn’t to me.”
One of the Carters’ grandchildren, Jason Carter, shared some of the more colorful anecdotes about his grandmother in his eulogy, including a story about a 1950s trip to Havana, where the Carters did not bother to get a hotel room. Jason Carter recalled what his grandmother had said when he asked what they did there: “We danced! Slept on the plane.”
At another point, he recalled watching her do tai chi with a sword.
But he said that she was also a regular grandmother in certain ways: “Almost all of her recipes call for mayonnaise, for example.” And she handed out birthday cards to grandchildren with $20 bills in them, without regard for the recipient’s age.
Rosalynn Carter will be buried at the Carter Home and Garden. The grounds are maintained by the National Park Service.
The Carters were last seen publicly together in September, taking a ride through a peanut festival in Plains, the small town where the couple kept a modest home after leaving the White House in 1981. The former president, now 99 years old, grew up on a peanut farm that he managed for a time as an adult.
Rosalynn Carter was the daughter of a father who drove a school bus and farmed, and a mother who sold milk and later worked for the post office.
Jimmy Carter said more than once that he’d found an equal partner in his wife. As first lady, she led a campaign to destigmatize talking about and seeking help for mental health, which included calling out journalists who used flippant terms like “crazy.”
In one eulogy, the couple’s son James Earl “Chip” Carter III said that his mother was instrumental in getting him the mental health help he needed to deal with addiction.
“She saved my life,” he said.
Chip Carter described his mother’s life as one of service and adventure, saying that she visited more than 120 countries. He recalled how, in the White House, his mother asked his father so many questions that he finally told her to attend Cabinet meetings, “and she caught a lot of flak for that.”
Veteran reporter Judy Woodruff used part of her eulogy to remember the first lady’s deft touch in politics. It was Rosalynn Carter, Woodruff said, who persuaded Hawaii Sen. Spark Matsunaga to phone in his proxy vote on an important health care bill while traveling on a Japanese bullet train together.
After Jimmy Carter failed to win re-election in 1980 — which Chip Carter called “devastating to us all” — the Carters returned to their humble roots and dedicated most of the rest of their lives to humanitarian work.
Chip Carter concluded, “My mother, Rosalynn Carter, was the most beautiful woman I ever met, and pretty to look at, too.”