PLAINS, Ga. - Rosalynn Carter made her final journey to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta on Monday as her family and the nation begin three days of memorials for the former first lady.
The Georgia native and global humanitarian died on Nov. 19 at the age of 96.
After brief ceremonies in the Carters’ native Sumter County in south Georgia, Rosalynn Carter’s remains traveled by motorcade to Atlanta, where she will lie in repose at The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.
The motorcade left around 10 a.m., traveling through downtown Americus before making a brief stop at Georgia Southwestern State University. That's where a wreath-laying ceremony at the Rosalynn Carter Health and Human Science Complex took place.
From there, the motorcade started its journey to the Peach State's capital, where hundreds of people gathered to watch the motorcade for Georgia's "Steel Magnolia" pass by.
The library was open from 6 to 10 p.m., offering the most direct opportunity for the public to pay their respects during the three-day tribute. Two funerals, set for Tuesday in Atlanta and Wednesday in the Carters’ hometown of Plains, are for invited guests.
"We just wanted to pay our respects to the Carter family. They're an amazing couple," said Melanie Brasher.
Former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter attend church on Easter Sunday at Maranatha Baptist Church on April 20, 2014 in Plains, Georgia. (Photo by Chris McKay/Getty Images)
As people prepared to say their final goodbye to Mrs. Carter, many shared a favorite memory or story.
"Mr. and Mrs. Carter have been a part of my world since he was governor of Georgia. In ’76, when Jimmy ran for president, it was my first vote," said Don Drennon.
"To me, they've been the epitome of someone who lives out there fate and knows how to be a leader and servant to the public. I had the opportunity to meet them both a couple of times," said Randy Hubbard.
Reed Elliotte and his mom, Larrietta, came from Kentucky to pay their respects.
"I love Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. They were my favorite president and first lady," said 13-year-old Reed.
Reed says he first met President Carter in 2019 when he was teaching Sunday school in Plains. Since then, he says he's become good friends with the Carter family. Reed says Mrs. Carter's death hit him hard.
"It took me awhile to compose myself after finding out. It took two to three days to stop crying, and just think about the happy times we got to spend with them," said Reed.
Visitors say it was an emotional night. As they passed by Mrs. Carter's casket, which was covered in flowers, it was a time for reflection.
"It was very quiet, people paying their respects. Going through the library part, everyone taking it in, reading and paying their respects to the former first lady," said Chad Hunt.
Earlier, during a private repose ceremony at the Carter Center, library and museum staff joined members of the Carter family.
Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander paid tribute to the former first lady who, alongside former President Carter, co-founded the Carter Center.
Mrs. Carter was remembered as a person who led by example, and rarely asked anyone to do something that she wouldn't do herself. She treated everyone with respect and dignity, was unpretentious. Never seeking recognition for herself.
Former Carter Center CEO John Hardman offered words of reflection, expressing the impact Mrs. Carter had on all who knew and loved her. He said she was selfless, caring, and kind, down to earth, genuinely interested in others and tirelessly working to improve lives around the world.
The Carter family penned a letter of appreciation to the Carter Center Staff that was printed in the service program stating:
"All of you and the work you do for the Carter Center and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum have been very meaningful to Mrs. Carter. This private service honors your partnership with her.
"The Carter family is grateful for your continuing commitment to Mrs. Carter's dream of a more caring world."
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, longtime friends of the Carters, are expected to attend the Atlanta service. While motorcade routes will be open throughout the schedule, Rosalynn Carter’s burial on Wednesday in Plains is private.
It is not known whether former president Jimmy Carter, who is 99 and in his 10th month of hospice care, will take part in the events. Those close to his immediate family have said he will make every effort as he grieves his partner of more than 77 years.
The schedule, a product of detailed planning that involved the former first couple, reflects the range of Rosalynn Carter’s interests and impact. That includes her advocacy for better mental health treatment and the elevation of caregiving, her role as Jimmy Carter’s closest adviser and her status as matriarch of Plains and Maranatha Baptist Church, where she and the former president served in various roles after leaving the White House in 1981.
"We're going to make sure that she knows that we all love her," said Kim Fuller, the Carters’ niece. "We're going to send her off with a wonderful, wonderful send-off."
Rosalynn Carter has asked for donations to the Carter Center's Mental Health Program or the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers in lieu of flowers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.