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Jimmy Carter, 99, leads US presidents at wife Rosalynn’s memorial

Carter was best known for her work post-White House, as she and her husband championed human rights, democracy and health issues around the world
Carter was best known for her work post-White House, as she and her husband championed human rights, democracy and health issues around the world - Copyright AFP/File Saul LOEB
Carter was best known for her work post-White House, as she and her husband championed human rights, democracy and health issues around the world - Copyright AFP/File Saul LOEB
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds with Danny Kemp in Washington

Former US president Jimmy Carter, 99, made a rare public appearance on Tuesday to join two of his successors and all five living first ladies at the memorial service for his wife Rosalynn.

A frail-looking Carter, who has been in hospice care for several months, arrived in a wheelchair at the Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta for the ceremony for Rosalynn, a humanitarian and mental health advocate who died on November 19 aged 96.

Sitting next to Carter in the church were current US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, who watched as Rosalynn Carter’s flower-covered coffin was carried in.

Alongside them were former president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and former first ladies Melania Trump, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush.

Rosalynn Carter had been suffering from dementia and died just two days after joining her husband in hospice care at their home in Plains, Georgia, from where the former president traveled for the service.

The turnout of US political luminaries showed the high regard in which Rosalynn Carter was held in the United States. 

Celebrated as an active first lady who championed then little-discussed issues of mental health, Rosalynn Carter’s reputation only grew, along with her husband’s, once they left the White House.

Losing his 1980 reelection bid to Republican Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter was widely dismissed as a failure. However, the couple went on to build a global network of charity activities and earned plaudits for their humble lifestyle.

– ‘Equal partner’ –

Rosalynn Carter’s farewell began Monday when past and present agents from the US Secret Service, which guards presidential families, escorted her coffin to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta. The public was invited to pay last respects.

Joe and Jill Biden flew from Washington early Tuesday — and gave the Clintons and Michelle Obama a lift on the presidential plane Air Force One, the White House said.

The more private funeral on Wednesday in Plains will inevitably shift attention to the health of Jimmy Carter, who is the oldest living US ex-president in US history.

Presidential funeral services typically are attended by all living presidents — Carter attended the Washington memorial for George W. Bush in 2018 — providing a moment for unity across parties and generations.

With Biden and Donald Trump likely to face each other in a 2024 rematch of their bitter 2020 election battle, however, even the solemn occasion of a Carter funeral would be scrutinized for signs of tension.

The Carters married in 1946 and held the record of longest-wed presidential couple. 

When she died, Jimmy Carter said in a statement that she’d been “my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished.”

Throughout Jimmy Carter’s long political career, his wife was at the heart of his campaigns. And during the 1977 to 1981 White House term, Rosalynn Carter worked to raise the status of the first lady’s office.

“She attended Cabinet meetings and major briefings, frequently represented the Chief Executive at ceremonial occasions and served as the president’s personal emissary to Latin American countries,” according to the White House website.

She was born in Plains on August 18, 1927, as the first of four children. At 13 her father died and she worked alongside her mother, who became a dressmaker to make ends meet.

She met Jimmy Carter in 1945 while she was in college and he was on leave from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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