Farewell to Rosalynn Carter
Rosalynn Smith Carter, first lady from 1977 to 1981, died November 19, 2023. Her public funeral service was Monday, November 27, 2023. It was both simple and grand with gentle self-deprecating humor and without pontificating heads of state. This was a service of tears, prayers, laughter, and fond memories. It was a service that included children, grand and great-grandchildren as well as Mrs. Carter’s husband, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, silent and somnambulant. It was all in all a state of grace and a graceful and grateful adieu to a woman of towering though quiet power, persistence and leadership.
Watching the service, we learned something of her life. We learned that Jimmy Carter, at 7 years old, met Rosalynn when she was a newborn - meaning, they knew each other her entire life. Rosalynn and Jimmy were born in Plains, Georgia, a town of about 600 people. They were married for 77 years.
Mrs. Carter was remembered for being a simple southern lady, a missionary, a business woman, a powerful partner, advocate and advisor to her husband during his time in the White House and beyond. Much was made of their long and faithful marriage, holding hands through 77 years of devotion. Her daughter read a letter from Jimmy when he was away in the navy. Her son told of her making pimento cheese sandwiches for her family on a Delta flight and then offering extras to neighbors on the flight.
Early in Jimmy Carter’s political career, Rosalynn was launched from shy small town girl to the role of political wife, supporter and advisor and then, when Jimmy became president she became the most famous woman in the world. She went to work daily in the White House with her briefcase. After leaving the White House, she and Jimmy returned to Plains Georgia, where they began their next chapter of public service. They founded The Carter Center. Through the Carter Center, they dedicated their lives to “Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.” Rosalynn Carter was particularly dedicated to improving mental health care and improving life for caregivers.
As the pastor closed the service for Mrs. Carter, he talked of the First Lady’s safe accompaniment around the world for these last 46 years by the Secret Service. He spoke of the Secret Service guarding over her even as she spent her last few days in hospice and referred to that vigil in almost sacred terms - always bringing Rosalynn home safely - keeping her safe as she worked for peace and hope. The Pastor also spoke of Mrs. Carter’s faithful adherence to the practice of “head to heart to hand” - following through on the good intentions of our heads, into our hearts and then into actual practice with actions with our hands. He offered those practices of ushering safe passage and “head to heart to hand” as sign posts for our own lives.
A funeral is an opportunity to review a life. Rosalynn Smith Carter led an extraordinary life start to finish - from meeting her future husband, Jimmy Carter, to growing up in a small town of 600 and then becoming first lady, and sharing such a long and wonderful marriage of 77 years. Those are the most meager of highlights of a life well lived. So many highlights emerge at a funeral, at anyone’s funeral. There is so much that we have forgotten or just never knew and we stand in awe of all the details and we mourn for the loss of this special person and we wish we had known more about this person when they were alive. Even when we are honoring a loved one, we take that time to review their life and remember the beautiful or daring or unorthodox or kind ways that this person we loved spent their days. We remember the places they lived, or the work they did and their accomplishments and the special times we spent together - perhaps even the un-special times, like an afternoon of fishing or a moment when they told us something sweet or insightful or a gave us a hug when we really needed one.
It always seems a shame to wait until someone has died for the rest of us to chronicle the stories and anecdotes of their lives. It would be so lovely for each of us to be appreciated for the many details of our journeys while we are alive.
At History Chip, these missions of safety and head to heart and hand are paramount. We want all the people of this world to feel safe and protected in their own identity. We want the intrinsic nature of each person - their fears, challenges and their personas to be protected. We want every person to feel that their lives, their experiences, their stories are important and that they can be heard at History Chip. At History Chip, these stories can be recorded and preserved so we don’t need to worry that they will be lost.
History Chip began as a notion in my head 15 years ago and seeds were sown for it 35 years before that. History Chip inhabited my heart and I have spent these last 15 years holding it in my hands for you to take and embrace.
So, I invite each and every one of you to share an anecdote, a story, a memory, a personal story. Maybe your mother made pimento cheese sandwiches or danced at the U.S.O, or sang songs to the family cat. Mrs. Carter’s funeral was rich and powerful because, like all of our lives, it was full of big stories and little stories and they all mattered. Your stories matter. They tell of a life. They tell of a time and a place. We can’t wait to read them. Share your story.
Need some guidance on how to get that story on paper? It’s easy. No big deal. But you can look at our blog, Elements of a Story for help.