Mourners honor former US first lady Rosalynn Carter’s humanitarian work

By Rich McKay and Jonathan Allen

ATLANTA (Reuters) -Rosalynn Carter was remembered on Tuesday for her humanitarian work and compassion as President Joe Biden and other dignitaries joined 99-year-old former President Jimmy Carter at an Atlanta memorial service for the former U.S. first lady, who played a prominent role during her husband’s 1977-1981 presidency.

The former president, who has been in hospice care at his home in Plains, Georgia, arrived at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church using a wheelchair. He sat before his wife’s flower-bedecked casket with a blue and white blanket, embroidered with a portrait of Rosalynn, folded on his lap.

“The alleviation of suffering has been an integral part of Rosalynn’s life for as long as I’ve known her,” Kathryn Cade, a longtime aide and friend, told the audience at the service for the former first lady, who died at age 96 on Nov. 19.

Cade described Rosalynn Carter’s work to eradicate Guinea worm disease in West Africa, prevent the loss of habitat for the monarch butterfly and her years of advocacy for mental health and women’s equality.

Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, was joined in the front two rows by dignitaries of both major U.S. political parties: Biden and his wife, Jill Biden; Vice President Kamala Harris; former President Bill Clinton and former first ladies Melania Trump, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.

“Rosalynn Carter would be so pleased to see that she brought all of you together on this day,” said Judy Woodruff, a journalist and longtime friend, drawing laughter from the audience.

Jimmy Carter has called his wife “my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished.” As first lady, she often was invited to sit in as an observer at cabinet meetings and political strategy discussions and played a role in his diplomacy in the Middle East and beyond.

“Mom was always well-informed on the issues of the day,” Carter’s son James Earl “Chip” Carter III told the service, describing her “partnership” with Jimmy Carter during his presidency. “In the White House, mom asked so many questions that he finally said that she should attend cabinet meetings. So she did and caught a lot of flack for that.”

Her children and grandchildren recalled fly-fishing trips with Rosalynn Carter and her fondness for using mayonnaise in her recipes, and how her human warmth guided her public service.

She died shortly after entering hospice care at her home in Plains, Georgia. Her family announced in May that she had been diagnosed with dementia.

Her funeral is scheduled for Wednesday at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, before an internment at the family residence. Her body lay in repose at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta on Monday.

Carter and her husband were the longest-married U.S. presidential couple, having wed in 1946 when he was 21 and she was 18.

Since his single term as president, Jimmy Carter has lived more post-White House years than any president before him, and Rosalynn played an instrumental role during those years, building the Carter Center nonprofit and the Habitat for Humanity charity.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Atlanta; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Will Dunham)