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Former first lady Rosalynn Carter will be honored at 3 memorial services this week


Former first lady Rosalynn Carter will be laid to rest Wednesday in Georgia. She died last week at the age of 96.


Carter was a top adviser throughout her husband Jimmy's political career, from a Georgia state senator to governor and then president, and she was one of the country's most visible advocates for mental health care. There will be a private and public memorial over the next three days to honor her life and legacy.

MARTIN: Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler is with us now to tell us more about all this. Good morning, Stephen.


MARTIN: So could you just start by telling us about some of the locations where Rosalynn Carter will be recognized this week? I understand that they represent important places and causes in her life. So I don't know. Let's start with the wreath-laying at her alma mater.

FOWLER: Well, Carter attended Georgia Southwestern State University and remained active with the school throughout her life. You can literally see her impact on campus. There's the Rosalynn Carter Health and Human Sciences Complex, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers and even a statue of the former first lady made from Georgia granite. From there, she'll lie in repose this evening at the Carter Center in Atlanta, which she co-founded with her husband, Jimmy, in 1982 to focus on issues like world peace, democracy and global health care.

MARTIN: You know, it's been more than 40 years since the Carters left the White House. But I think even people who don't remember their tenure there will remember all the things that they did in public - in the public arena into their later years. How is that reflected in the memorials this week?

FOWLER: Rosalynn Carter's signature issue was mental health, pushing for better care outcomes and seeking to remove stigma from mental illness and treatment. You know, as a testament to that, the family announced earlier this year Rosalynn was diagnosed with dementia before she entered hospice care earlier this month. And that's also reflected in the work of the Carter Center in Atlanta and the tribute service at Emory University in Atlanta Tuesday. The former first lady partnered with countless experts there, tackling not just mental health, but things like women's rights. Now, President Biden and Vice President Harris will both attend that service. And the family says every living first lady have been invited to her funeral.

MARTIN: And the funeral will be held Wednesday in Plains, Ga. Would you tell us a little bit more about her ties to the town?

FOWLER: Well, Plains is where Rosalynn grew up, where she raised a family and where she and Jimmy returned after his stinging presidential defeat. Services will be at Maranatha Baptist Church. It's where she taught Sunday school and volunteered with the church and its food ministry for decades. The service there is for friends and family only, but there's expected to be a crush of people lining the town to pay their respects. Wednesday, she'll be buried on the grounds of the family's house. It's the same one they've lived in since 1961.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, Stephen, in the days since her death, how has she been remembered?

FOWLER: Well, aside from people flocking to Plains and paying respects at the Carter Center, there's been an outpouring of love and support for a powerful figure. Now, politically, Rosalynn Carter was known as an equal to Jimmy, especially in the White House. I mean, she earned the nickname Steel Magnolia and kept a separate campaign schedule throughout his runs for office. You know, personally, there's been a lot to discuss about the Carters' love for each other. I mean, they were married for 77 years, Michel. And how they modeled a type of relationship that many people strive to have in a time when political figures and their spouses can be polarizing, this last week has shown that someone like Rosalynn Carter can exist beyond today's bitter partisanship.

MARTIN: That's Stephen Fowler with Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Stephen, thank you.

FOWLER: Thank you.

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Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.