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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rosalynn Carter’s final journey has begun in Southwest Georgia

U.S. Secret Service agents accompany the hearse carrying former First Lady Rosalynn Carter at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center Monday.    (Miguel Martinez/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
By Jeremy Redmon, Martha Dalton and Mirtha Donastorg Atlanta Journal-Constitution

AMERICUS, Ga. — Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died this month at 96 after battling dementia, began her final journey Monday where it started, in her native Southwest Georgia. Three days of memorial events are planned.

From Plains, the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient’s motorcade traveled Monday morning to Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus. The hospital has served as her temporary resting place since she died. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren arrived at the hospital in black coaches.

Over the years, she and former President Jimmy Carter received medical care at Phoebe Sumter, though their involvement with the hospital extended well beyond that.

“They wanted what was best for Sumter County, and health care was an integral part of that,” said Carlyle Walton, the medical center’s CEO.

“I am thankful that our team was given this opportunity to be a small part in celebrating the life of just a great woman, a great American and someone who was passionate about our community, our hospital.”

For many years, a Carter family member served on the board of the foundation for Sumter Regional Hospital in Americus. But in 2007, that hospital was destroyed by a tornado and was rebuilt, becoming Phoebe Sumter.

The former president attended the new center’s groundbreaking in 2009 and the former first lady wrote a letter to help it win a national contest for a free MRI machine, according to Walton. In 2015, the community raised money in the former president’s honor — to support fellow cancer patients. The Carters asked that some of those donations fund the Phoebe Cancer Center, Walton said.

The former president, who entered home hospice care this year after a series of brief hospital stays, was not in the family motorcade that arrived at the hospital in Americus Monday. But he is expected to travel to Atlanta as part of the memorial events for his late wife, a Carter Center spokesperson said.

Ten current and former members of Rosalynn Carter’s U.S. Secret Service details carried her casket — laden with sunflowers and roses — from the medical center to her hearse.

Among them was Bill Bush, who served the Carters for 21 years until he retired in 1999. He was special agent in charge for 16 of those years, traveling to more than 120 countries with the former first lady. Bush accompanied her on work trips and adventures, including when they climbed to the base camps at Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro.

“She did not want to be left out of anything that President Carter decided to do,” Bush said, adding: “It’s certainly like losing one of your family.”

Loved ones watched as her casket was transferred from the hospital to her hearse. The atmosphere was solemn, with only the sounds of rustling leaves and helicopters breaking the silence.

Next, her motorcade arrived at her alma mater, Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus. The campus features a bronze statue of her and is home to the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, which advocates for those who aid people with disabilities and mental illnesses.

Mourners placed wreaths beside her statue before her motorcade departed for its final destination Monday, the Carter Center. Rosalynn Carter joined the former president in creating the center, which seeks to wipe out diseases, reduce the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and promote democracy.

A private service is planned for her Tuesday at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church, located on Emory University’s campus. President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff are expected to attend.

Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains will hold a private service for her on Wednesday. Afterward, she will be buried in front of the home she shared with the former president in Plains.