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Memorial services begin next week to honor Rosalynn Carter, who has died at 96

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Condolences are pouring in following the death of former first lady Rosalynn Carter. She died yesterday at her home in Plains, Ga., at 96.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden said they remembered her for hope and warmth and optimism. Carter served her White House role from 1977 to 1981 and is remembered for spending even more years advocating for mental health and caregivers.

MARTIN: Rahul Bali covers politics for WABE in Atlanta, and he's with us ahead of the start of ceremonies next week, which will honor her life. Good morning, Rahul.

RAHUL BALI, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So Rosalynn Carter was sometimes referred to as the Steel Magnolia. Would you remind us about why that is?

BALI: As first lady, she was sometimes called Steel Magnolia by the media because she had a very gentle persona about her. But she was tough in her support of her husband and her causes. In a 1984 interview with NPR, she talked about her advocacy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROSALYNN CARTER: I don't think I'm smarter than Jimmy Carter, but I loved the political life. I loved it. I like the intrigue. And it's - and having one election, people who really support you and the next election will be your opponents, and the ones who were your opponents will be your supporters. I just like the whole - I like all of it. I like getting out and meeting people and talking with them and learning the country. It was just fascinating to me. I miss it.

BALI: And while she did miss it, she had another outlet for her advocacy. When the Carter Center was built in Atlanta in the '80s, she kept talking about mental health and caregiving. She wrote books about it, kept saying she wanted to fight the stigma around mental health, hoping people would have those important conversations. One of the things she did start was the Mental Health Journalism Fellowship program at the Carter Center. That's been going since 1996, with a goal of more accurate and in-depth reporting on mental health. She also had a deep passion for advocating for caregivers. That dates back to when her father had cancer, eventually passing away when she was 13. She took on the caregiving role as the oldest of four siblings.

MARTIN: Would you tell us a bit more about her relationship with Jimmy Carter? They were married for a very long time.

BALI: Seventy-seven years. And you often saw them together - Braves baseball games, building houses for Habitat For Humanity, traveling through Africa, fighting diseases. For many people, they were really just the Carters. You know, when I covered Jimmy Carter's 99th birthday celebration a few weeks ago, so many people had a story about seeing the Carters together. Their last appearance together was at the Plains Peanut Festival - public appearance - where they rode in a parade back in September. They grew up in Plains together. They started dating in 1945. Jimmy Carter said in 2015, the best thing he ever did was marrying Rosalynn. The Carters had four children, 12 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren. One of those grandchildren, Jason Carter, served in the Georgia State Senate, now works as a trustee at the Carter Center.

MARTIN: And how are people in her home state remembering her?

BALI: Condolence notes that are coming from all over the world and from across the country. You heard from President Biden and first lady Jill Biden. Georgia's Governor Brian Kemp, who was among the first to pay his respects, he highlighted Carter's work championing mental health services and promoting the state she loved across the globe. Memorial services are scheduled to take place next week in Sumter County and in Atlanta, starting Monday through Wednesday of next week.

MARTIN: That is Rahul Bali with WABE in Atlanta. Rahul, thank you.

BALI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Rahul Bali