Tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter

By Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 0151 GMT (0951 HKT) November 29, 2023
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3:18 p.m. ET, November 28, 2023

Rosalynn Carter's tribute service concludes with benediction honoring her life and faith

From CNN’s Pamela Kirkland and Fabiana Chaparro 

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter’s casket was carried out of Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church after her tribute service concluded following Pastor Tony Lowden's benediction.

“You’ve heard everything about this brave soul. You heard that she was from Plains, Georgia. You heard the fact that she loved and that she had compassion even for a butterfly,” Lowden said.

“She’s alive. She’s resting in the arms of Jesus. We ask that you comfort every person here today as her sons and daughters of the Secret Service take her back home to Plains," he added.

Former President Jimmy Carter exited the church shortly after the casket and their motorcade has departed.

Rosalynn's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday in Plains, Georgia.

3:02 p.m. ET, November 28, 2023

Carter family pastor thanks Secret Service for protecting Rosalynn for 46 years

If she was here today, Rosalynn Carter would be sure to thank the Secret Service agents who were with her and kept her safe for 46 years, the family’s personal pastor said at a tribute service for the former first lady on Tuesday.

“For 46 years they made sure she got home safe. I want to tell each and every one of them, she would tell you, ‘Thank you. You got me home safe,’” pastor Tony Lowden said.

During the procession on Monday, past and current members of Rosalynn's Secret Service detail escorted the motorcade and the hearse at Pheobe Sumter Medical Center, the Carter Center said in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

3:10 p.m. ET, November 28, 2023

Grandson remembers Rosalynn Carter as a loving and adventurous grandmother who was a rock for the family

Jason Carter speaks during a tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter on Tuesday in Atlanta.
Jason Carter speaks during a tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter on Tuesday in Atlanta. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/G, at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 28, 2023. Carter died on November 19, aged 96, just two days after joining her husband in hospice care at their house in Plains. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Rosalynn Carter was a lot of things — a grandmother, an adventurer, and someone with "unshakable strength," her grandson, Jason Carter, said at a tribute service in her honor on Tuesday.

“My grandmother doesn’t need a eulogy, her life was a sermon," he said.

He said her life was a “testament to the power of faith and love,” pointing to her 77-year marriage to Jimmy Carter, who their grandson said “inspired the world.”

Despite her high-profile role in the White House, Jason said she was still a very normal grandmother.

“Almost all of her recipes call for mayonnaise, for example. We all got cards from her on our birthdays — $20 bill in it,” he said.

Jason also talked about a time when his grandmother took out a Tupperware of pimento cheese and bread on an airplane and made everyone sandwiches. He said that anecdote demonstrated how much she loved people, getting laughs from the crowd gathered in the church.

“She was a rock for our family,” but she was also an “adventurer, a voyager, a mountain climber.”

“I know that she went to the Everest base camp in Nepal and I can guarantee you that she was looking up at that thing and thinking, ‘If they would just let me,’” he said. “And based on what she did, I think she could have done it,” he added.

Jason said his grandmother had “unshakable strength and powerful faith.” He talked about how Rosalynn would open her heart up to people all over the country and to advocate fiercely for things that mattered to her and other Americans, including mental health.

2:50 p.m. ET, November 28, 2023

Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks sing "Imagine"

Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks perform during a tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter on Tuesday in Atlanta.
Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks perform during a tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter on Tuesday in Atlanta. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Country music superstar couple Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood performed John Lennon's "Imagine" during Rosalynn Carter's tribute service Tuesday.

Earlier this year, Brooks and Yearwood participated in Habitat for Humanity’s 37th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, picking up the hammer for the Carters.

2:59 p.m. ET, November 28, 2023

Her efforts advocating for mental health "saved lives," Rosalynn Carter's grandson says

Jason Carter, Rosalynn Carter's grandson, paid tribute to his grandmother's work as an advocate of mental health reform, noting that she was way ahead of her time when deciding to take on the issue.

"Her advocacy for mental health was a 50-year climb that is as remarkable as any other," Jason said.

"But if you imagine just how far our society has come in the last five years on issues of mental health, and you think that she decided in 1970 to tackle the ancient stigma associated with mental illness, it is remarkable how far she could see and how far she was willing to walk," he added.

He said that his grandmother's work had a large impact, including within the Carter family.

"And that effort changed lives and it saved lives, including in my own family," he added.

2:32 p.m. ET, November 28, 2023

Rosalynn Carter changed the role of first lady and proved she could be an adviser, journalist says

Judy Woodruff pauses at the casket after speaking during a tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta, on November 28.
Judy Woodruff pauses at the casket after speaking during a tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta, on November 28. Brynn Anderson/Pool/Getty Images

Journalist Judy Woodruff described former how Rosalynn Carter changed the definition of what it meant to be the first lady.

The two first met in 1970 when Rosalynn was campaigning for Jimmy Carter’s gubernatorial campaign and Woodruff was a young reporter at an Atlanta television station. Woodruff covered the Carters both when Jimmy Carter was the governor and when he became the president.

“I know my respect and admiration for her goes back to the very beginning,” she said.

“What we witnessed was a first lady who saw her role as going well beyond the essential warm and welcoming host to being a close and trusted, yes, adviser. In essence an extension of the president himself,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff talked about how Rosalynn would sit in on cabinet meetings and immersed herself in learning about subjects that mattered to her.

Woodruff talked about a diplomatic trip Rosalynn took to the Caribbean, Central and South America in the early months of the Carter administration. She wanted to bring back concerns to her husband, Woodruff said, especially ones revolving around human rights.

“I'll never forget the looks on the faces of some of the Latin leaders as they realized that they were dealing with a serious, supremely well-informed and well-briefed representative of the president of the United States,” she said, as one of the journalists on the trip. “The person closer to him than anyone else. Criticism ahead of time that she would be dismissed melted away.”

2:35 p.m. ET, November 28, 2023

Jimmy Carter's daughter reads a love letter he wrote to Rosalynn 75 years ago

James "Chip" Carter and Amy Carter hold hands near their father, former President Jimmy Carter, during a tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta on November 28. 
James "Chip" Carter and Amy Carter hold hands near their father, former President Jimmy Carter, during a tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta on November 28.  Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Jimmy Carter, 99, is attending the tribute service for his wife, Rosalynn, but the former president isn't able to speak — so their daughter, Amy Lynn Carter, read one of his love letters on his behalf.

"This is from a letter he wrote 75 years ago while he was serving in the Navy," Amy said before reading this passage:

"My darling, every time I have ever been away from you, I have been thrilled when I return to discover just how wonderful you are. While I am away, I try to convince myself that you really are not, could not be as sweet and beautiful as I remember. But when I see you, I fall in love with you all over again. Does that seem strange to you? It doesn't to me. Goodbye, darling. Until tomorrow. Jimmy."

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus followed the reading with a performance of "Wondrous Love."

2:12 p.m. ET, November 28, 2023

The Carter family is sitting in the front row

From CNN’s Pamela Kirkland and Fabiana Chaparro

Former president Jimmy Carter is seated in the first row with his sons, John William “Jack” Carter, James Earl “Chip” Carter III and Donnel Jeffrey “Jeff” Carter and his daughter, Amy Lynn Carter, during the tribute service for his wife.

Amy was seen holding her father's hand during a performance of "Morning Has Broken" by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus.

The service honoring former first lady Rosalynn Carter is being held at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church.   

President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton joined the family in the first row along with former first ladies Melania Trump, Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

2:16 p.m. ET, November 28, 2023

A look at the 77-year-long love story between Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter

From CNN's Stephen Collinson

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter were married on July 7, 1946. Both were born and raised in Plains, Georgia. 
Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter were married on July 7, 1946. Both were born and raised in Plains, Georgia.  Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP

So close were Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, that it is jarring to see him without her.

The former president’s deeply poignant arrival in church a reclined wheelchair, just before his wife’s flower-covered casket, ends their common journey in life that lasted nearly 80 years.

They first met in the last summer of World War II. Carter, then a US Naval Academy student, told his mother after his first date with Eleanor Rosalynn Smith that, "she's the girl I want to marry."  

The couple, who decades later would become the longest-betrothed presidential couple in history, wed in 1946.

When he published his book “A Full Life” shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, Carter contemplated his own mortality. He wrote that he was at peace with his accomplishments as president as well as his unrealized goals. He said he and Rosalynn were “blessed with good health and look to the future with eagerness and confidence, but are prepared for inevitable adversity when it comes." 

Even the Carters couldn’t beat time and that adversity eventually came. And Carter, 99, who is himself receiving hospice care, will be left to face his final days without his partner in life and politics.