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Hundreds stream in to pay respects to Rosalynn Carter as she lies in repose in Atlanta

By Christina Maxouris, CNN

(CNN) — Hundreds of Americans of all ages streamed into Atlanta’s Jimmy Carter Presidential Library to pay respects to Rosalynn Carter, who laid in repose Monday evening.

Many of those who came to bid the former first lady a final farewell paused briefly in front of her wooden casket, which was covered in a spray of colorful flowers and guarded by two Georgia State Patrol members. The public repose was scheduled to last until 10 p.m.

Earlier in the day, many other Georgians lined state roads when Rosalynn Carter’s motorcade made its way to Atlanta from her small hometown of Plains, in southwest Georgia.

The public repose began after a brief ceremony during which the Carter family and staff members of the Carter Center and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum paid their respects – one of several ceremonies planned through Wednesday to honor Rosalynn Carter’s life and legacy.

She died peacefully in her Plains home on November 19, at the age of 96, two days after the Carter Center announced she was entering hospice care at home. A tireless advocate of mental health reform and the destigmatization of mental illness, Rosalynn Carter spent most of her life dedicated to humanitarian efforts, always at the side of her husband of more than 77 years, former US President Jimmy Carter. In May, the Carter Center said Rosalynn Carter had dementia.

The couple had returned home to Plains, about 120 miles south of Atlanta, after leaving the White House in 1981 and had lived there since. Jimmy Carter, who is 99, began receiving home hospice care in February, after a series of hospital stays.

People from across the state – and across the country – have made their way to Plains in the past week to celebrate Rosalynn Carter’s life and legacy as the town of several hundred prepared to say goodbye.

“She gave so much back to the community, to our world,” Georgia resident Andy Huggins told CNN last week. “I just felt the need to come through here one more time, just being in the presence here of her spirit. She was a beautiful person.”

The Carters’ last public appearance was September 23, when they took a ride through the Plains Peanut Festival. Jimmy Carter is expected to attend his wife’s memorial service in Atlanta on Tuesday, according to his grandson Jason Carter.

Ceremonies began Monday

Rosalynn Carter’s motorcade left downtown Plains at 10 a.m. on Monday and traveled through the nearby city of Americus.

The motorcade made a short stop at a medical center, where former and current members of her US Secret Service Protection detail served escorted the hearse, according to the Carter Center, the nonprofit the Carters founded.

And in one of the first official observances of the former first lady’s death, two wreaths were laid near a bronze statue of Rosalynn Carter on the campus of her alma mater, Georgia Southwestern State University, on Monday morning. The statue depicts the former first lady sitting on a bench, holding her book, “First Lady from Plains.”

Hundreds of people gathered for that service, the university said.

University President Neal Weaver and CEO of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, Jennifer Olsen, placed the wreaths on opposite sides of the statue. The former first lady founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers on the school’s campus in 1987 and the organization has since supported and advocated for “tens of millions of Americans providing unpaid care for their loved ones,” the school said.

“She leaves a legacy for us to strive to meet,” Weaver said. He lauded “the way that she engaged with people, saw humanity as a real positive and wanted people to be successful and wanted to invest in their lives.”

He said she was a “regular” at Georgia Southwestern State University before the Covid-19 pandemic and that students had the chance to be “right next to her working with her and getting to know her.”

Members of the Carter family traveling with the motorcade stepped off the bus briefly to shake hands with participants.

“We will always remember her incredible accomplishments and dedication to service, and will continue to build on her legacy of advocacy,” the school said in a statement last week. “We will never forget what she means to this university.”

Tribute service to be held Tuesday

A private tribute service is scheduled to take place Tuesday at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church at the Emory University campus, with invited guests that include President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden. Vice President Kamala Harris and the second gentleman are also expected to attend.

A private funeral service for family and invited friends is set to take place Wednesday morning at the couple’s beloved Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains.

“Rosalynn Carter’s deep compassion for people everywhere and her untiring strength on their behalf touched lives around the world. We have heard from thousands of you since her passing,” her family said in a statement last week. “Thank you all for joining us in celebrating what a treasure she was, not only to us, but to all humanity.”

The Carter Center said in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Carter Center Mental Health Program or the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers. Additionally, people can share their memories of the former first lady on a website that was created to honor her.

CNN’s Jaide Timm-Garcia, Devon Sayers and Eva McKend contributed to this report. 

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