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Melania Trump gathers with other first ladies at Rosalynn Carter tribute

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As five first ladies gathered Tuesday at an Atlanta church before a service to honor the life of Rosalynn Carter, one stood out in the crowd.

Former first lady Melania Trump wore light gray in a sea of mostly dark dresses and jackets — a visual reminder for many of her distinction in the crowd of dignitaries.

She was gracious as she met the family of Rosalynn, whose husband, Jimmy Carter, has regularly clashed with Donald Trump, and she seemed happy to be there, according to Rosalynn Carter’s family.

Rosalynn Carter honored by Jimmy, Bidens and admirers at Georgia memorial

“She said sweet things about my mother,” said Chip Carter, the Carters’ son, in an interview. “She thanked us for getting an invitation and we thanked her for coming — and I gave her a hug.”

Carter family members said they did not witness a hint of awkwardness on Tuesday between Melania Trump and the others — Jill Biden, Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton — while they were together out of the public view.

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But there seemed to be plenty when they were on camera. The women barely looked at each other or smiled, and appeared to take pains to stare straight ahead after entering the church.

Melania Trump stood next to Michelle Obama, but they did not appear to speak or even acknowledge each other. At times, Michelle Obama — who has said that false claims by Donald Trump about her husband’s citizenship led to threats to her family — seemed to be leaning away from Melania Trump.

Historically, there was nothing particularly notable about a former first lady attending a memorial for one of her predecessors — a solemn occasion that has long bridged partisan divides and brought former White House occupants together to mourn.

But Melania Trump has rarely been seen in public since she left the White House shortly after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, where many supporters of her husband said they believed the election was stolen by Joe Biden. Accompanied by her, Trump left Washington without attending Biden’s inauguration, the first outgoing president not to stand with his successor in 150 years.

Rosalynn Carter’s family said she specifically wanted Melania Trump to know she was invited to the service. In a time of division, she hoped all the first ladies would join in a show of solidarity as her farewell tribute.

“My grandmother campaigned against and voted against some of their husbands,” said Jason Carter, the Carters’ grandson. “But she believed that there are some things that are more important than politics.”

Rosalynn wanted Melania Trump included out of respect for the often unsung role of first ladies, according to her family and friends.

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“They know what goes into the job,” said Paul Costello, who worked for Rosalynn Carter in the White House. “I wouldn’t call them best buddies, but I think they have a great deal of respect. … A unique bond, no matter what party they’re in or no matter how well their husband is respected or not respected.”

During the service, several speakers alluded to that enduring connection between first ladies — a role that Rosalynn, who died at 96 this month, modernized. She hired professional staff to take advantage of the high-profile platform and despite criticism from some voters, attended cabinet meetings and national security briefings. A staunch supporter of women’s rights, Rosalynn was also her husband’s closest political adviser.

“These women have a personal bond, not many people share what they experienced,” added Jason Carter, in a speech at the tribute.

Jason Carter acknowledged each of the first ladies by name from the altar and spoke of their “remarkable sisterhood.” In a nod to the power and influence of his grandmother and other first ladies gathered, he also drew a laugh from hundreds in the church by adding, “We also welcome your lovely husbands.”

President Biden, who has known the Carters since they were in White House, and former president Bill Clinton, a Southern Democrat whose path from governor to president echoed Carter’s career, were at the service on Tuesday. Donald Trump, George W. Bush and Barack Obama did not attend.

Vice President Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff also attended the service. Jimmy Carter, 99, remained in a reclined wheelchair and looked pale and frail. The only dignitaries he met privately with before the service were Joe and Jill Biden.

The death of Rosalynn “has shaken” Jimmy Carter, said his son, Chip. But he said his father sat with her body for 30 minutes Friday and “is coming to grips with her loss.”

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Virginia Tate, a privacy lawyer standing near the church on the Emory University campus, held out little hope that a gathering of first ladies at the service would make any mark on America’s political fractures. “It’s kind of meaningless,” she said.

But others thought the images counted for something.

“That’s something the country needs. It’s so hyper-polarized right now that people are always ready to pick a fight,” said Mark Rosenberg, a global public health advocate who was standing nearby.

Danielle Paquette contributed to this report.

Source: Washington Post

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