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Former first lady Rosalynn Carter buried near Georgia home built with Jimmy

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PLAINS, Ga. — Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died this month at age 96, was laid to rest Wednesday in Plains, Ga., the tiny farm town where she met Jimmy Carter as an infant, married him as a teenager and where they returned after the White House.

She was remembered for her devotion to faith, family and public service in a simple, private funeral at the Maranatha Baptist Church, where the former president taught more than 800 Sunday school lessons.

In his eulogy, Pastor Tony Lowden noted Rosalynn Carter’s famous competitive streak, saying she “never stopped competing.” He joked, to laughter from the church, that she would say of heaven: “Jimmy tried to beat me here. I got here first. I’ve won the prize. Tell him I beat him, and I’m waiting on him.”

Jill Stuckey, a close family friend who was sitting nearby, said Jimmy Carter visibly brightened at Lowden’s joke.

“He was happy that she won,” Stuckey said. “He wanted to be there to protect her until she took her last breath.”

The funeral in the small brick church was attended by about 200 family members and invited friends on a chilly late-November day that dawned with frost on the grass.

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The former president, who is 99 and extremely frail, sat in a wheelchair for the service for his wife of 77 years. He has rarely left his home in the past year, and his last public appearance before he attended a memorial for his wife Tuesday in Atlanta was a quick visit to Plains’s annual peanut festival in September.

The funeral was a much lower-key event than Tuesday’s memorial service in a church at Emory University in Atlanta, which drew President Biden and first lady Jill Biden, former president Bill Clinton and all the living former first ladies.

The funeral program included tributes from her son John “Jack” Carter and a grandson, Joshua Carter, as well as scripture readings by three of her 14 great-grandchildren. Actress and singer Joanna Maddox performed “The Lord’s Prayer,” and the Georgia Southwestern State University Concert Choir, from Rosalynn Carter’s alma mater, also sang.

Jack Carter, the eldest of Jimmy and Rosalynn’s four children, joked about how his father “got used to mom disagreeing with him because she was really good at it.” He said she was “a partner in the true sense of the word, where they had equal footing.”

Lowden, in his eulogy, said, “There’s no place on this Earth that you can find anyone that has anything bad to say about Rosalynn Carter. Not one person on the left or anybody on the right.” That was because, he said, “she did not worship the donkey or the elephant. She worshiped the lamb.”

Lowden said she was always looking out for the vulnerable and extended a hand to those who were hurting.

Jill Stuckey said Rosalynn Carter’s friends gathered for several hours in the church before the ceremony, exchanging stories about the former first lady. “One minute we would be telling stories and laughing, and then the next something would trigger, and I’d just start crying,” she said.

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Many members of the Carter family wore floral leis in honor of Rosalynn Carter’s love of Hawaii, where she and her husband lived when he was in the Navy just after World War II. Rosalynn Carter took hula dancing lessons while there and won a competition. Their Hawaii-born son James E. “Chip” Carter III recalled in the Tuesday service how his mother, even after her dementia diagnosis this year, would still stand and show off her hula moves. Her Secret Service code name was “Dancer.” (Jimmy Carter’s is “Deacon.”) When a family friend shipped the leis to her family, they decided to wear them to her funeral.

Rosalynn Carter took hula dancing lessons in Hawaii, where one of her children was born, and won a hula dancing competition. When a family friend shipped the leis to her family, they decided to wear them to her funeral.

Near the end of the funeral, the congregation sang “Amazing Grace.” Then the service ended with pianist David Osborne, a Rosalynn Carter favorite, playing the John Lennon song “Imagine,” as the casket was removed by a military honor guard, accompanied by her 11 grandchildren serving as honorary pallbearers.

As the casket was carried to the hearse, Jimmy Carter followed directly behind in his wheelchair, leading the family.

From the church, the funeral procession, including a long line of black SUVs, passed through the town’s tiny center, which is essentially a living monument to the Carters, featuring a general store selling the couple’s favorite peanut ice cream and a shop selling political memorabilia. The procession also passed the Plains train depot, which marks the geographical center of town and was used as Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign headquarters.

Rosalynn Carter’s hearse was driven slowly down the street, with members of her large family walking behind it. It was the same street the Carters often walked home, hand-in-hand for years when they often ate dinner at Stuckey’s home. A small crowd gathered downtown, some with their hands over their hearts, as her body passed by.

Laura Walker drove 50 miles to be in Plains on Wednesday. With her hand over her heart, she watched the procession go by. “I feel privileged to witness this,” she said. “I wanted to be here, to contribute to the feeling of loving support.”

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It was eerily quiet along the route. The only sound was the occasional crackle of radios carried by some of the hundreds of law enforcement officers who lined the streets.

The procession eventually arrived at a small ranch house that the Carters built for themselves in 1961, which remains remarkably unchanged and modest. In a private ceremony, the former first lady was buried on a sloping lawn on the property, near a pond where the Carters sometimes practiced their fly-fishing. When her husband dies, he will be buried alongside her.

The Carters chose the grave location themselves years ago, hoping that their home and burial site, which will become a museum, would be a tourism draw that would bring needed revenue to Plains and its 700 residents.

Rosalynn Carter was well-known for her lifetime devotion to mental health issues and supporting caregivers. She created the modern office of the first lady in the east wing of the White House, attended Cabinet meetings and was her husband’s closest political adviser. She visited about 120 countries and met with presidents and monarchs.

But in Plains she was also known for the humble and simple lifestyle she maintained with the former president. In their modest house, they often kept leftovers in a small cooler emblazoned with the presidential seal.

“It’s extraordinary for a former first lady to have this much attention, and Rosalynn Carter deserves it,” said E. Stanly Godbold, Jr.,, author of “Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: Power and Human Rights 1975-2020.” Because Secret Service had locked down much of Plains, Godbold, 81, had walked about a half-mile into town from a parking area outside of town.

Godbold had attended the Atlanta service Tuesday filled with the powerful and famous. Then he came to Plains on Wednesday for the far more simple funeral. “The contrast is typical of the Carters,” he said. “They are humble people who still want to be remembered as being ordinary citizens of Plains.”

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Before the funeral began, well-wishers filed into the former Plains High School, where Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter went to school, to sign a condolence book. “We love you dearly. And we are thankful for your life and your example of how to live, love and see others. We’re all right behind you,” said one note signed by Andrew Green.

Officials from the National Park Service passed out copies of a poem, called “Rosalynn,” that Jimmy Carter wrote. It began, “She’d smile, and birds would feel that they no longer had to sing” and ended, “her smile still makes the birds forget to sing and me to hear their song.”

Angela Foster wiped a tear away as she thought about Rosalynn Carter, her former boss. Foster drove to Plains to pay her respects by just being in the former first lady’s hometown.

“Today means I will never see her again,” said Foster, 59, who had worked with Carter at Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit that builds affordable homes, and at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers.

Foster said she saw the former first lady hammer nails into boards on construction sites, and elevate the work and pay of caregivers who support injured veterans and the elderly.

“She was hands-on,” Foster said. “I have never known a person at her level to be so compassionate. With all that’s going on in the world, you need that — someone who cares.”

Sullivan reported from Washington. Timothy Bella in Washington contributed to this report.

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Rosalynn Carter: The life of the former first lady

The latest: At the funeral of Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady was honored for her faith, family and public service. She was buried near the house that she and Jimmy Carter built in Plains, Ga., in 1961. Rosalynn Carter died at age 96 at the couple’s home on Nov. 19. Two days before her death, the Carter Center said she was in hospice care at home.

Redefining the role of first lady: Rosalynn Carter created the modern Office of the First Lady and advocated for better treatment of the mentally ill during her years in the White House and for four decades afterward. She also wrote or co-wrote five books, mainly about caregiving and mental health.

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter: The Carters had been married for more than 77 years, the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history. Their love story blossomed in World War II and survived the searing scrutiny of political life. The final moments of Rosalynn’s life were spent with Jimmy at the family home in Plains.

Source: Washington Post

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