Remembering Rosalynn

by the Reverend Paul McLain


One of the tributes to former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who died last month, described how she became a champion for persons impacted by mental health. During her husband Jimmy’s campaign for governor of Georgia, she frequently heard from voters distressed about the conditions of family members living at a crowded psychiatric center in Milledgeville, Georgia. Then, one morning, an exhausted cotton mill worker shared that she and her husband worked opposite shifts to take care of their daughter with mental illness. Rosalynn was haunted by that conversation and set out to do something. She learned that Jimmy was holding a rally that same night, and she surprised him by waiting to see him in the greeting line, telling him, “I came to see what you are going to do to help people with mental illnesses when you are governor.” In one of his smartest moves, Jimmy answered, “We’re going to have one of the best mental health programs in the country, and I’m putting you in charge of it.”


What Rosalynn did at both the state and federal levels was not only to provide leadership and advocacy but also to remove stigmas from talking openly about mental health. One woman wrote on Rosalynn’s memorial page: “My mother, who was from Alabama, suffered with mental illness all of her life from the 1950s through 2016 when she died.  She experienced firsthand the tragedy of stigma, discrimination, and frightening treatment both in and out of hospitals. She wrote to Mrs. Carter to thank her for her help. She was so thrilled to receive a response back.”


Rosalynn encountered many caregivers along the way and became one herself at a young age when her father was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 12. She later helped care for her grandfather, mother, and other family members and was the recipient of loving caregiving by her husband, Jimmy, family, and friends near the end of her life. She founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers at her alma mater and wrote a book, Helping Yourself Help Others. She wrote, “So many people giving care to their loved ones feel isolated, inadequate, despairing. At a time when more and more Americans are called on to give care, it is critically important that we do what we can to support caregivers.”


An example of loving caregiving occurred at Calvary a couple of weeks ago. The Friends of the Mental Health Court, a joint ministry of Idlewild Presbyterian and Calvary volunteers, hosted our annual Advent/Christmas gathering in our Mural Room. It was a day of celebrating the work of brave persons with mental health issues taking big and little steps to transform their lives with the help of the caring court personnel and our compassionate volunteers from Calvary and Idlewild. This day of joy was a reminder that Rosalynn Carter’s devoted, passionate spirit lives on. As we shared a delicious meal and cheered each other on, the room was infused with the warmth and radiance of Rosalynn’s beautiful smile and loving heart.

12 thoughts on “Remembering Rosalynn”

  1. Paul, this is a loving and gracious tribute. Rosalynn’s generous heart and genuine concern for others. You remind us that she displayed a model worth remembering and living in our actions.

  2. Rosalynn Carter was gifted with tenacity to take on the challenges she did in her well-live life. She was one amazing (First) lady!

  3. Thank you, Paul, for giving us this remembrance of Rosalyn Carter!

    Thinking of her warms my heart and gives me hope. All of us in the Friends of the Mental Health Court are blessed to be with our friends in the MHC program. We see them overcome difficulties and achieve important goals as they live into wellness.

    Peace to all,

    1. You’re welcome, Susanne. I’m so grateful for your shared vision and leadership of the Friends of the Mental Health Court and how it carries on the work of Rosalynn Carter and the dreams of God.

  4. Thank you, Paul, for this touching remembrance of Rosalyn Carter, and for your support of the Friends of the Mental Health Court!
    I just want to echo what Susanne said.

    1. You’re welcome, Bruce. We’re so grateful for our partnership with Idlewild in the Friends of the Mental Health Court and the way this shared ministry carries forward Rosalynn’s legacy and the dream of God.
      Love and Blessings,

  5. Roslyn Carter made “God’s love visible” wherever she walked. I recall a social work colleague of mine from Georgia got to work directly with Rosalyn on mental health issues and mentioned just how tenacious, down-to-earth, and gracious she was. Your tribute to her and the work of the Mental Health Court was beautiful.

    1. Bill, thanks for these personal remembrances of Mrs. Carter. Glad the tribute was meaningful to you and stirred these thoughts. And so grateful for the work of the Friends of the Mental Health Court. Glad you’re feeling better!

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