Chattanooga woman recalls Rosalynn Carter and helping organize her funeral

Former President Jimmy Carter greets people as he leaves after the funeral service for his wife, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, at Maranatha Baptist Church on Nov. 29 in Plains, Ga. The former first lady died Nov. 19. She was 96. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)
Former President Jimmy Carter greets people as he leaves after the funeral service for his wife, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, at Maranatha Baptist Church on Nov. 29 in Plains, Ga. The former first lady died Nov. 19. She was 96. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

A Chattanooga woman who helped organize last week's funeral ceremonies for former first lady Rosalynn Carter recalled Carter's work on issues such as mental health, human rights and conflict resolution.

"She was a humble, soft-spoken but quiet force," Natalie Jones Lacey said Wednesday. Lacey spent about 13 years first working at The Carter Center in Atlanta and then later with former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter at their Plains, Georgia, home base.

The former first lady died Nov. 19 at age 96, and memorial services were held in Georgia in Americus, Atlanta and, lastly, in Plains.

(READ MORE: Rosalynn Carter's intimate funeral)

Lacey in a phone interview pointed to a poignant moment as the funeral procession was passing through downtown Plains to the grave site from Maranatha Baptist Church, where the former president, now 99 and in frail health, had often taught Sunday School.

(READ MORE: Jimmy Carter turns 99)

 

Lacey said family members exited the motorcade and walked nearly the last mile, a nod to history when the newly elected president and his wife left their vehicle in 1977 to stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue in the inaugural parade.

Maranatha pastor Tony Lowden said at the funeral Rosalynn Carter "served every nation around the world" because she embraced the teachings of Jesus Christ and "took it outside the walls" of the church.

Lacey, who works for insurer Unum in Chattanooga, said in the interview she was asked to serve on a committee tasked to plan the funeral and related ceremonies.

"Our job was to plan and implement the wishes of Mrs. Carter and her family," she said, helping in matters of logistics, protocol and with media.

Events played out on a world stage, Lacey said.

"There was media attention from around the world," she said. "It was really important to the team and committee to ensure her life story be shared in the best way possible and how impactful she was globally and in Georgia."

At a hospital in Americus near Plains where she was brought when she died, current and former Secret Service agents on her detail were invited to attend a ceremony there, Lacey said.

"The Carter personality, they're a gracious type of people who took an interest in people who protected them," she said, including one agent who served in the role for 21 years. "It was really important to Mrs. Carter to include them."

The Atlanta ceremony, attended by President Joe Biden and his wife, was "a very formal and beautiful service," Lacey said. She said country music stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood sang, the Atlanta Symphony performed and Carter family members spoke.

At the hometown funeral in Plains, Lacey said, grandchildren and great-grandchildren spoke and a pair of choirs sang "the classics."

"They were a very important part of the fabric of the community," she said.

Lacey noted the Carters were married for 77 years.

"I have fond memories of her gently insisting President Carter stuck to a very healthy diet at home," she said.

Lacey said part of the work she did for the Carters was to help develop sites in Plains into a national historical park.

She said she worked to "ensure the legacy of the president and first lady. How a couple from a rural town could rise to a level of leadership for the U.S., but around the world as well."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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