Presidents, celebrities attend Rosalynn Carter's tribute service, but her faith, dedication takes center stage

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Former first lady Rosalynn Carter's Tuesday tribute service was attended by presidents, her fellow first ladies, country music stars and other prominent guests.

But it was Rosalynn Carters' faith, dedication to the nation and global humanitarian work that took center stage at the memorial. The former first lady died earlier this month at age 96.

The service, held in the Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church on Emory University's campus in Atlanta, featured music from some of the Carters' favorite musicians, including Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, friends of the Carter family.

Rev. Mark Westmoreland, pastor of Glenn Memorial, in opening remarks told the audience that Tuesday's service "celebrates 96 years of faith and love," and several members of the Carter family read passages of scripture.

Chip Carter, the Carters' second eldest son, during the service called his mother his hero and "the glue that held our family together through the ups and downs."

"She told me that when dad started running for president that the thing that she enjoyed the most were the people that she met across the country," Chip Carter said, adding that, as first lady, her faith served as a guideline in her work and conversations with Americans across the country.

"She and dad were able to make a positive difference in people's lives," he said, touting her work fighting stigmas surrounding mental health care, poverty and other critical worldwide issues.

Kathryn Cade, Rosalynn Carter's longtime aide and friend, told the audience at the service, "What a remarkable woman she was a wife, mother, business manager, political strategist, diplomat, advocate and author."

As Cade reflected on Rosalynn Carter's work in the U.S. and around the world, she shared that her "compassion and empathy for those who are suffering was boundless, her passion for action even more so." Cade celebrated Rosalynn Carter's work to eradicate diseases, fight for women's rights and even protect monarch butterflies.

Jason Carter said in some ways his grandmother was like a lot of grandmothers, baking with mayonnaise and once making pimento cheese sandwiches for strangers on a flight.

But he also touted her work with the Carter Center fighting the spread of guinea worm disease around the world, a condition that used to affect millions of people that has now become rare. Jason Carter called Rosalynn Carter's mental health advocacy a "50-year climb."

"It is remarkable how far she could see and how far she was willing to walk. And that effort changed lives, and it saved lives including in my own family. She was made for these long journeys," he said.

Political leaders and their spouses joined the 99-year-old former President Jimmy Carter, including President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden; Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff; and former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Fellow former first ladies Melania Trump, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush were also in attendance.

Amy Carter, the Carters' daughter, read a letter that her father wrote her mother while he was serving in the Navy, in which he told his future first lady "My darling, every time I have ever been away from you, I had been thrilled when I returned to discover just how wonderful you are."

Check back here for updates on the former first lady's tribute service as Rosalynn Carter's family and broader community honor her life and legacy.

Tributes radiate through Atlanta

Efforts to honor Rosalynn Carter extended beyond the Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church on Tuesday.

Andrew Hack, a junior Emory University student majoring in quantitative sciences and psychology, showed up near the church to witness what he’s “never experienced before” before – a major dignitary’s funeral.

“Just being near them and seeing them come out in support, along with our Emory students, it kind of feels like it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re a former president of the U.S. or just an Emory student, we’re all here to pay our respects to Mrs. Carter,” he said.

Traffic near the church also drew the attention of a neighborhood resident, Andre Benjamin, out for his morning walk. Benjamin said he feels a connection with the Carters’ humanitarian beliefs.

“I like their empathy, how they carried themselves,” he said. “Their causes were all to help folks, whether it was Habitat for Humanity, whether it was mental health, or just trying to improve the world as a whole. That who the Carters were – and are, because he’s still here.

Services for the former first lady began Monday with a wreath-laying at the Rosalynn Carter Health and Human Sciences Complex at Georgia Southwestern State University, her alma mater. The Carters' four children were all in attendance.

'Your service and sacrifice'

Tributes to Rosalynn Carter quickly echoed outside of Georgia this week.

“Your legacy will go on in the lives of those you helped,” a family from Pennsylvania wrote in a condolence book set up in the White House Visitors Center by the White House Historical Association in Washington.

Many of the signers called Carter a role model. They praised her “kindness and grace,” her advocacy for the vulnerable and her “wonderful marriage and relationship with Jimmy.”

“You were an inspiration to a generation of women!” a woman from Florida wrote.

A nurse recalled meeting Carter, who fought stigmas around mental health, when Carter spoke at a convention of psychiatric nurses.

“Thank you for your service and sacrifice,” the nurse wrote.

Contributing: Maureen Groppe and Savannah Kuchar, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rosalynn Carter tribute service: Presidents, first ladies pay respects