ATLANTA - Rosalynn Carter was memorialized Tuesday as a matriarch who felt most comfortable among the impoverished and vulnerable as she was mourned by a rare gathering of all living U.S. first ladies and multiple presidents, including her 99-year-old husband Jimmy Carter.
The tribute service marked the second day of a three-day schedule of public events celebrating the former first lady and global humanitarian who died Nov. 19 at home in Plains, Georgia, at the age of 96. Tributes began Monday in the Carters’ native Sumter County and continued at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta.
FOX 5 Atlanta has made the decision not to show a close up photo of former President Jimmy Carter out of respect.
"My mother was the glue that held our family together through the ups and downs and thicks and thins of our family’s politics," her son James Earl "Chip" Carter III said.
The former president, who is 10 months into home hospice care and hadn’t been seen in public since September, watched from his wheelchair, reclining and covered by a blanket featuring his wife’s face, with Chip and his daughter Amy holding his hands. Their other sons, Jeff and Jack, flanked them.
James "Chip" Carter kisses the head of his father, former US President Jimmy Carter, during a tribute service for former US First Lady Rosalynn Carter, at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 28, 2023. Carter died on November 19, ag
"He never wants to be very far from her," Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander said.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, their longtime friends, joined them in the front row, along with former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former first ladies Melania Trump, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush. Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff paid their respects, as did Georgia’s U.S. senators and Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marty. More than 1,000 people, including a sizeable contingent of Secret Service agents, filled the sanctuary. Former Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush were invited but didn’t attend.
US President Joe Biden and US First Lady Jill Biden arrive at a tribute service for former US first lady Rosalynn Carter at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 28, 2023. Carter died on November 19, aged 96, just two days after join
The service reflected Rosalynn Carter’s status as a global figure while emphasizing her more private profile as a family matriarch who preferred a simple life and held a deep religious faith.
"She had met kings and queens, presidents, others in authority, powerful corporate leaders and celebrities," Chip Carter said. "She said the people that she felt the most comfortable with and the people she enjoyed being with the most were those that lived in absolute abject poverty."
The pews filled with political power players, but front and center were her children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren — all surrounding Jimmy Carter, who grieved not as a former president, but as her partner of 77 years.
The speakers came from many chapters of her long life: Chip as the son who recalled his once-shy mother coming into her own in business and politics; Kathryn Cade as the White House aide who stayed on as a close adviser as Rosalynn Carter helped build The Carter Center and its global reach; Judy Woodruff as a journalist who covered the Carter presidency; and Amy Carter, who read a love note her father wrote to her mother 75 years before.
"Their partnership and love story was a defining feature of her life," Amy Carter said.
Cade described Rosalynn Carter’s time as first lady as "really just one chapter in a life that was about caring for others."
Woodruff recalled Rosalynn Carter lobbying lawmakers, campaigning separately from her husband, attending Cabinet meetings and playing key roles — including being the first presidential adviser to suggest Camp David as a negotiating place for Epypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin. The decision led to historic peace accords between the two countries.
"Without Rosalynn Carter, I don’t believe there would have been a President Carter," Woodruff said.
It was Jimmy Carter’s first public appearance since entering hospice care, other than a brief ride with Rosalynn in September’s Plains Peanut Festival parade, where they were visible only through the open windows of a Secret Service vehicle. He was with his wife during her final hours, but did not appear publicly during earlier events at Rosalynn Carter’s alma mater, Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, and at his presidential library.
Alexander said the trip to Atlanta was "hard" for the former president but "this is her last trip up and it’s probably his, too. … He’s determined."
The Carters married in 1946 and became the longest-married presidential couple in U.S. history. Jimmy Carter is the longest-lived president; Rosalynn Carter was the second-longest lived first lady, trailing only Bess Truman, who died at 97.
Praised for a half-century of advocacy for better mental health care in America and reducing stigmas attached to mental illness, she brought attention to the tens of millions of people who work as unpaid caregivers in U.S. households, and was acclaimed for how integral she was to her husband’s political rise and in his terms as Georgia’s governor and the 39th president.
Chip Carter recalled how his mom got him into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction.
"My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever met," he said. "And pretty to look at, too."
Jason Carter, her grandson, got laughs as he acknowledged the "remarkable sisterhood" of the First Ladies in attendance, and then greeted the "lovely husbands" of Hillary Clinton and Jill Biden.
"She was so down to earth, y’all, it was amazing," Jason Carter said as he shared family stories, including the time when his grandmother made pimento sandwiches and handed them out on a Delta flight.
"She loved people," he said. "She was a cool grandma."
Country music stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, family friends of the Carters and their successors as Habitat for Humanity ambassadors, performed a rendition of John Lennon’s "Imagine" toward the end of the service.
US country singer Garth Brooks performs during a tribute service for former US First Lady Rosalynn Carter, at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 28, 2023. Carter died on November 19, aged 96, just two days after joining her husban
Rosalynn Carter’s funeral will take place Wednesday in Plains, with an invitation-only service at Maranatha Baptist Church, where the Carters have been members since returning to Georgia after his presidency. She will be buried after a private graveside service on a plot the couple will share, visible from the front porch of the home they built before Jimmy Carter’s first political campaign in 1962.
Who will be attending Rosalynn Carter’s tribute service on Tuesday?
President Joe Biden, accompanied by first lady Dr. Jill Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris, accompanied by second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, are expected to attend the service at the Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church at Emory University.
Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as former first ladies Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump are expected to be among those attending.
The guest list also includes several members of Congress and Georgia elected officials, both past and present.
Surviving grandchildren of Mrs. Carter will serve as honorary pallbearers during the service. The program includes gathering music performed by members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, presenting some of Mrs. Carter's favorite tunes, including an arrangement by legendary ASO conductor Robert Shaw and Alice Parker. Pianist David Osborne, a longtime favorite of the Carters, will play a medley of hymns as a prelude to the service. Musical performances will be delivered by the ASO Chamber Chorus, along with tributes by family friends Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.
It has also been confirmed that former President Jimmy Carter will be attending the tribute service on Tuesday in Atlanta.
The invitation-only event will be presided over by Rev. Mark Westmoreland.
Where can I watch Rosalynn Carter’s tribute service?
Since Tuesday’s service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter is by invitation only, the church is allowing cameras in to help the public pay tribute.
While the service begins at 1 p.m., there will be updates on the processions planned for that day as well as any traffic updates as needed.
Will traffic be impacted by the Rosalynn Carter tribute service?
Most of the Emory University campus will be closed as well as roads around the Glenn Memorial Church for most of the day.
All operations which usually take place on the campus will be remote. That includes all classes, exams, labs, and student activities.
Atlanta Public Schools say some students could get home late due to the traffic on Tuesday afternoon.
In addition, major roadways leading to and from the church could be periodically shut down to accommodate the arrival and departure of dignitaries, not to mention the processions planned for Mrs. Carter.
All focus will shift on Wednesday to Plains, Georgia, where a funeral service for family and close friends will be held at Maranatha Baptist Church.
What are the procession routes for Rosalynn Carter?
Before the Tuesday service, the funeral motorcade will begin at the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta. It will depart at noon from the Center via John Lewis Freedom Parkway toward Ponce de Leon Avenue, where the motorcade will turn right. Continuing east, the motorcade will then turn left on Clifton Road Northeast and left again onto North Decatur Road. It will arrive at Glenn Memorial Church on the campus of Emory University for the service honoring Mrs. Carter.
After the service ends at about 2:45 p.m., the motorcade will depart Emory University via westbound North Decatur Road before turning left onto Briarcliff and continuing on Moreland Avenue, then turning right at John Lewis Freedom Parkway. Crossing Highland Avenue, the motorcade will pass The Carter Presidential Center for a final time before joining I-75/I-85 South for the return to Plains.
Approaching Macon, the motorcade will proceed on I-475 South, rejoin I-75 South and continue until Exit 149, where it will turn right on GA 49 toward Byron. It will continue 34 miles (utilizing the bypass at Fort Valley) before turning left at Butler on U.S. 19 South for 21 miles and then joining GA 153 south in Ellaville. The motorcade will enter Plains via GA 45 for a private arrival at Maranatha Baptist Church.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.