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Jimmy Carter attends tribute service for wife of 77 years

November 29, 2023
Former President Jimmy Carter attends a memorial service for his wife Rosalynn in Georgia, in a rare public appearance since entering hospice care 10 months ago. — courtesy Getty Images
Former President Jimmy Carter attends a memorial service for his wife Rosalynn in Georgia, in a rare public appearance since entering hospice care 10 months ago. — courtesy Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Ex-President Jimmy Carter has attended a memorial service for his wife Rosalynn in Georgia, in a rare public appearance since entering hospice care 10 months ago.

Carter, 99, arrived at the service in a wheelchair and dressed in a dark suit, flanked by his four children.

"My mother was the glue that held our family together," the couple's son, Chip Carter, told guests — who included President Joe Biden.

Mrs Carter died aged 96 this month.

She was diagnosed with dementia in May and entered hospice care in Georgia in the days before her death.

Her 77-year marriage to Carter — who served in the White House between 1977-81 — remains the longest of any first couple.

Mrs Carter was carried to the Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church at Emory University for the tribute service by a motorcade on Tuesday morning.

The service attracted some of the most powerful politicians in the US, including former President Bill Clinton. The gathering reflected the esteem she was held in by both Republicans and Democrats.

First Lady Jill Biden and all four living predecessors — Melania Trump, Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton — were among those who attended the service.

It was the first time since George HW Bush's funeral, in 2018, that all of the living first ladies had been in one place, with Mrs Trump and Mrs Obama seated beside each other.

Former Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama were invited, but did not make it.

Vice-President Kamala Harris, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Georgia Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens also attended.

Tributes were led by Mrs Carter's family, friends and closest aides.

It was initially unclear whether President Carter, who has been receiving end-of-life care since February, would attend. He has suffered from serious health issues, including a melanoma that spread to his liver and brain.

The former president watched on from the front row, sitting in a wheelchair with his legs covered by a blanket. His daughter, Amy, who sat beside him, held his hand throughout.

"He's coming to the end, and he's very, very physically diminished," Jason Carter, one of the former president's grandsons, said in an interview before the service, according to the New York Times.

"But I think he was proud and happy that he was there for her till the very end, and he wasn't going to miss this for anything."

Speaking from the pulpit, friends and family reflected on Mrs Carter's remarkable life and the legacy she leaves behind.

When her husband began his political career in the 1960s — first as Georgia state senator, governor, and later US president — Mrs Carter was focused on reducing the stigma attached to people with mental illnesses.

As first lady of Georgia she was a member of a governor's commission to improve services for the mentally ill, and as US first lady she became honorary chair of the President's Commission on Mental Health, which was key to the passage of a 1980 act that helped fund local mental health centers.

After leaving Washington she and her husband founded the Carter Center in 1982, through which she continued her advocacy work for mental health, early childhood immunization, and other humanitarian causes.

Mrs Carter's daughter, Amy, concentrated on her enduring relationship with President Carter, reading a letter he wrote to her while serving as a submarine commander in the US Navy 75 years ago.

"My darling, every time I have ever been away from you I have been thrilled when I returned to discover just how wonderful you are," she read. "When I see you, I fall in love with you all over again. Does that seem strange to you? It doesn't to me."

The ceremony also featured Mrs Carter's favourite passages from the Bible and a performance of John Lennon's Imagine by musicians Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. The pair are friends of the Carters and have worked with the non-profit Habitat for Humanity projects.

After the service, Mrs Carter began the journey home to Plains — which the Carters called home for decades.

On Wednesday morning, a private funeral service will take place for family and close friends at the Maranatha Baptist Church in the town.

She will be buried at the Carter Home and Garden, part of the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park. Her husband will be laid to rest next to her when the time comes. — BBC


November 29, 2023
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