Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

Rosalynn Carter Remembered As A Trailblazer And Compassionate Advocate. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 28, 2023 - 14:00   ET



KATHRYN CADE, AID TO ROSALYNN CARTER: In so many different ways, she promoted a more caring society. A number of years ago, at the end of an interview with Jon Stewart, then of The Daily Show, where she had lobbied him to pay more attention to fighting the stigma of mental illness, and even in jest offered to award him a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship to improve his reporting skills, he looked at her and said, Mrs. Carter, you are truly one of the good people in this world.

Today, we do indeed mourn a remarkable person, one of the truly good people in this world. May those of us who knew and loved her as a friend and colleague honor her life by building on her legacy of caring deeply for the most vulnerable people in the world. Among us.


IRIE ALICIA CARTER, PRESIDENT AND MRS CARTER'S GREAT-GRANDDAUGHTER: A reading from the book of Psalm, chapter 19, verse 14. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.


JUDY WOODRUFF, JOURNALIST: President Carter, President Biden, Dr. Biden, Vice President Harris, the second gentleman, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, Mrs. Bush, Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Trump, distinguished guests and friends. Rosalynn Carter would be so pleased to see that she brought all of you together on this day. First, my deepest condolences to you, President Carter, to Jack, to Chip, to Jeff, to Amy, and to your families.

I am honored that you asked me to participate today. News reporters and the public figures we cover don't always have the smoothest of relationships. Given the nature of our different roles, our interactions can be uncomfortable at times. The first time I met Ms. Carter, it was 1970, when she was campaigning hard for her husband to be elected governor. It was on the tarmac of a small airport somewhere in the middle of Georgia, and I sensed a wariness on her part. I was only a cub reporter for an Atlanta TV station, so that was understandable.

I'm happy to say that the wariness melted away. It may have taken about 40 years for that to happen. But it had by the time she invited me to attend a luncheon in Washington, where she was receiving an award for her work on caregiving. She knew that we have a son with disabilities and that caregiving is essential in our lives. I know that my respect and admiration for her goes back to the very beginning. There was always something genuine about Ms. Carter, a groundedness and a quiet self-assurance, despite what she later wrote about her early struggles with public speaking.

I covered the Carter's through their time as Georgia Governor. Through the historic and astonishing campaign for the presidency in 1976, through their years in the White House. What we witnessed was a First Lady who saw her role as going well beyond the essential, warm and welcoming host to being a close and trusted, yes, advisor. In essence, an extension of the president himself. A first lady who understood the weight of her words and especially her actions. A first lady who cared deeply about the American people, about how government policies and actions affect their daily lives. A first lady who took on tough assignments, who was, in her words, determined to be taken seriously, and who wasn't afraid of controversy.

That started at the very beginning of her time in the White House when, as you heard, she made big news by sitting in on cabinet meetings. As she put it, there was no way I could discuss things with Jimmy in an intelligent way if I didn't. Continuing her push for something to be done about mental health, the issue she had adopted as first lady of Georgia, she immersed herself in the subject, insisting that ways be found to bring it out of the shadows, to erase the stigma associated with mental illness. She personally lobbied for legislation, and she saw it become law.

She launched a childhood immunization initiative that led to the virtual elimination of measles as a public health problem. Just five months into the new administration, she took on an ambitious diplomatic mission, that two-week trip to the Caribbean, Central, and South America that she described as more than a goodwill trip. She said she wanted it to be valuable in each country. To bring back their concerns to her husband.

She had studied his foreign policy intensely, especially on human rights. She took a cram course in Spanish. I was one of the reporters who travelled with her on that 12,000-mile journey. I had not studied Spanish. And I'll never forget the looks on the faces of some of the Latin leaders as they realised that they were dealing with a serious, supremely well informed and well briefed representative of the United States. The person closer to him than anyone else. Criticism ahead of time that she would be dismissed melted away.

She lobbied for other important legislation, including one of the earliest efforts to cut the cost of health care. The so-called hospital costs containment bill.


Mrs. Carter was traveling with the president in Japan to attend an economic summit when word came from Washington that they were a few votes shy, including from a senator who was traveling with them on the bullet train to Kyoto. It was Mrs. Carter who spoke to Hawaii Senator Spark Matsunaga, persuaded him to phone in his proxy. The bill passed.

And there was the Middle East. Thirteen days of tense talks among President Carter, Israel's Menachem Begin, and Egypt's Anwar Sadat. Mrs. Carter was the one who suggested first that they meet at Camp David, noting that it was far removed from the pressures and the controversies of Washington. President Carter said, she was a partner in his thinking throughout the negotiations. The Camp David Accords have survived as one of the very few enduring agreements to come out of the Middle East.

I last interviewed President and Mrs. Carter together in Plains in July 2021 as they were celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. I asked them how they thought President Biden was doing early in his term. President Carter was very specific on issue after issue and quite complimentary of the new president. Mrs. Carter said simply, it's a great relief to have him in office.

And what a love story. For 77 years, they adored each other and had much in common. Intelligence, compassion, curiosity, courage. And apparently, they could both be a little stubborn. She often said, the most challenging time of their marriage was when they co-authored a book. My connection with President and Mrs. Carter is more than professional. It was the summer of 1976 when I met my husband, Al Hunt, who was then with the Wall Street Journal on the Plains High School athletic field, where competitive then-candidate Jimmy Carter organized softball games between his campaign staff with a lot of help from the very fit Secret Service agents, and on the other side, the press corps.

The press always lost. Al and I didn't see each other again until the spring of 1977, after NBC News moved me to Washington to cover the White House. You know, if Jimmy Carter hadn't been elected, we would likely never have gotten married, had three children and a grandson. So as fate and only 1,683,247 votes would have it, our lives are connected with theirs.

When Jimmy Carter was running for president the first time, a reporter asked Rosalynn why she was campaigning five days a week, 20 hours a day. Her answer? It's a labor of love. Besides, I won't have any regrets if he loses, because I am doing everything I can do. That, to me, explains why she did so much, worked so hard throughout her entire life, at the White House and in the many years before and since, championing the rights of the underserved, coming to the aid of the most vulnerable, doing whatever she could to improve the lives of others, so she wouldn't have regrets that she hadn't done everything in her power to do.

That's who she was. Without Rosalynn Carter, I don't believe there would have been a President Carter. She, and the two of you, set an example for all of us. I agree with my friend Jim Fallows, who wrote, her memory will be a blessing, her influence on the world will be her monument, end quote. Because of Rosalynn Carter, millions of lives are better off. What a gift she left.



AMY LYNN CARTER, PRESIDENT AND MRS CARTER'S DAUGHTER: I chose something that is hard to read without crying, so be patient. My mom spent most of her life in love with my dad. Their partnership and love story was a defining feature of her life. Because he isn't able to speak to you today, I am going to share some of his words about loving and missing her.

This is from a letter he wrote 75 years ago while he was serving in the Navy. My darling, every time I have ever been away from you, I have been thrilled when I returned to discover just how wonderful you are. While I am away, I try to convince myself that you really are not, could not be as sweet and beautiful as I remember. But when I see you, I fall in love with you all over again. Does that seem strange to you? It doesn't to me. Goodbye, darling. Until tomorrow. Jimmy.



LUELLA BIRD REYNOLDS, PRESIDENT AND MRS CARTER'S GREAT GRANDDAUGHTER: A reading from the Book of Galatians, chapter 5, verses 13 to 14. Serve one another humbly in love, for the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command. Love your neighbor as yourself.


JASON CARTER, THE CARTER'S GRANDSON: Thank you all for being here. As you can see from the service, music was so important to my grandmother. And it's been just beautiful. So, thank you. Governor and First Lady Kemp, thank you. Senators Warnock and Ossoff, thank you. Congresspeople, Mayor Dickens, thank you all. And again, a special thank you. Secretary Clinton, Mrs. Bush, Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Trump and Dr. Biden, thank you all for coming and acknowledging this remarkable sisterhood that you share with my grandmother. And thank you all for your leadership that you provided for our country and the world.

Secretary Clinton and Dr. Biden, we also welcome your lovely husbands. I mean --. This is a difficult day for my family. But we have been so enormously gratified by the love and support that we have received and we have felt from across the world. So, thank you so much. And as Reverend Warnock told me, my grandmother doesn't need a eulogy. Her life was a sermon. And it was a mighty testament to the power of faith and to the power of a deep and determined love. And she lived this public love story that we all know of that has inspired the world, including in these last days.

And I think of all the things she experienced, and I think of all the things she accomplished. Her most viral moment was when they were at a baseball game and the Braves put them on the kiss cam. And just like today, I mean, people were crying at the Braves game, you know. But we heard about it for years. It's amazing. But in my family, we all experienced those more private love stories. And she was my grandmother first.

And she was like everyone else's grandmother in a lot of ways. Almost all of her recipes call for mayonnaise, for example. We all got cards from her on our birthdays. Twenty-dollar bill in it. When I was 45, $20 bill. Like, and she was so down to earth, y'all. It was amazing. And one of the stories we've been talking about in my family these last few days is we were on a family trip and we were on a flight on Delta from here to somewhere. And we were all sitting in the back of the airplane together. And it took off. And we looked over. My grandmother took out this Tupperware of Camino cheese. And this loaf of bread. And she just started making sandwiches. And she gave it to all of us grandkids.

And then she just started giving them to other people on the plane. And people were sitting there like, Rosalynn Carter just made me this sandwich, you know. And they couldn't believe it. But she loved people. And she was a cool grandma. She was cool. She was cool. Like, she did Tai Chi with this sword. And if you want to see a five-year- old boy, be excited, they would come back, Dad, you know Mom Carter has a sword, you know. She once told me about this trip, Papa, that y'all took to Havana in the 50s.

She said, y'all went down there for the night and you didn't get a hotel room. And I said, what'd you do? She looked at me like, we danced. And we slept on the plane. They danced, didn't they? She was a rock for our family. And that's true. But in many ways, she was more, as Chip said, an adventurer, a voyager, a mountain climber. She learned to ski in her 60s and then skied for 25 more years. As Chip said, she fished trout streams from Georgia to Wyoming and from Venezuela to Siberia, visited 120 countries, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Fuji and summited peaks in Bolivia and other places.