Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
February is Women's History Month!

A longtime friend remembers Rosalynn Carter

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Rosalynn Carter has been laid to rest under a willow tree in Plains, Ga., where she and Jimmy Carter lived for decades. The former first lady's quiet private burial came after three days of celebrating her legacy across her home state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRISHA YEARWOOD: (Singing) Imagine all the people living for today.

KELLY: Many of those close to her have been speaking this week about her legacy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATHRYN CADE: What a remarkable woman she was - wife, mother, business manager, political strategist, diplomat, advocate, author - yet what I remember most about her was her tireless dedication to taking care of others.

KELLY: That is Kathryn Cade, vice chair of the Carter Center's board of trustees. Carter was a global humanitarian. She and her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, set up the Carter Center back in 1982. It focused on a number of issues, like working to eradicate diseases, including Guinea worm in parts of Africa and Asia. Journalist Judy Woodruff covered the Carter White House and got to know Rosalynn Carter well.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUDY WOODRUFF: She said she wanted to be valuable in each country, to bring back their concerns to her husband.

KELLY: The former first lady advocated for international conflict resolution, for election monitoring and for equal rights for women. Here is her grandson, Jason Carter, who also spoke during the memorial service on Tuesday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JASON CARTER: My grandmother doesn't need a eulogy. Her life was a sermon.

KELLY: Jason Carter remembered his grandmom as beloved by her family and also kind of cool.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: She did tai chi with this sword.

(LAUGHTER)

CARTER: And if you want to see a 5-year-old boy be excited - they would come back - Dad, do you know Mom Carter has a sword - you know?

KELLY: Grandmother, mother, humanitarian, wife, first lady - and here is one more hat she wore - champion for mental health.

REBECCA BRENDEL: She imagined that we would have mental health treatment just the same way that people were going to the doctors for their physical health.

KELLY: That is Rebecca Brendel, past president of the American Psychiatric Association. Carter was one of the first prominent political figures to call for better mental health care and to reject the stigma of mental illness.

EVE BYRD: I think what sets her apart is that she recognized the stigma and really more so the discriminatory behaviors that come from that stigma.

KELLY: That is Eve Byrd, director of the Carter Center's Mental Health Program. And it was Carter's rejection of the stigma around illness, including depression, that made her friend Anne Mahoney Robbins feel comfortable confiding in her.

ANNE MAHONEY ROBBINS: A doctor friend - he would say to me, oh, don't say anything to anybody. You'll get - you know, you'll get a reputation for being someone who they don't want to have anything to do with.

KELLY: Anne Mahoney Robbins worked in the Carter White House while she was wrestling with crippling depression. Robbins recalls meeting the Carters for the first time. It was in Georgia back when Jimmy Carter was governor there.

ROBBINS: Dave really was with me. He...

KELLY: Your husband, yeah.

ROBBINS: Yeah, my husband. He said, he - meaning Jimmy - looked a lot like John Kennedy, and I was a John Kennedy fan, big-time. And next thing I know, flowers arrive and a - an invitation to go spend the weekend with the Carters.

KELLY: I wanted to talk to you about the time in your life - I know you talked to the Washington Post about this - the time in your life when you were going through a deep depression.

ROBBINS: Yes.

KELLY: You've spoken of how you were - you couldn't even get out of bed. It just felt so hard, and you were worried about telling anybody because of the stigma.

ROBBINS: Yes, and there - and even now, there's a stigma - not like it was. But there definitely was a stigma, and people would say to you - like a doctor friend, he would say to me, oh, don't say anything to anybody. You'll get - you know, you'll get a reputation for being someone who they don't want to have anything to do with.

KELLY: Let me ask you this. Rosalynn Carter used to call you on the bad days...

ROBBINS: Yes.

KELLY: ...And encourage you. What did she say?

ROBBINS: Oh, mainly - I'm very Irish, and she really hit the buzzer. That's the one thing she did. I'm very Irish, and she would use that. And she - and I would feel like two cents. And she said, well, are you tough? I thought the Irish were supposed to be tough. And I said, well, I am Irish, and I am tough. And she said, well, then you have to get out of bed. She said, this is just terrible. She said, I just can't handle people who have a lot of things going for them, and they just don't take advantage of it.

KELLY: Oh, wow. And then, did - would she stay on the line until you actually did get up?

ROBBINS: Yes.

KELLY: So it was a mix of, it sounds like, encouragement and a little bit of prodding and guilt that...

ROBBINS: Yes, yes.

KELLY: ...Worked. Yeah. How much did it matter - that support, those phone calls?

ROBBINS: Oh, my God. I mean, this is the wife of a - I - now, my family has always been in politics, but this is the wife of the governor of Georgia.

KELLY: I saw that you have credited Rosalynn Carter with saving your life, and I wonder how. Would you tell me that story?

ROBBINS: I just - I think I could have easily - I just feel - and I feel this today. I feel that I could go to - really lose it, really not have any life, and I really deeply feel that.

KELLY: That you could have surrendered to your depression.

ROBBINS: Yes.

KELLY: Well, as you say goodbye to her today, as she's laid to rest there in Georgia, I wonder, is there anything - last thing you want people to know about her, about your friend of so many years?

ROBBINS: She made my dream come true.

KELLY: And what was your dream?

ROBBINS: I always wanted to go to the White House. My mother would always tell people, oh, even when Anne was a little girl of 5 years old, I was so in love with politics. And by the way, she was very, very, very, very, very pretty.

KELLY: (Laughter) Yes, she was.

ROBBINS: She was very, very pretty, and I never thought she got the credit for being so pretty.

KELLY: Well, Anne Mahoney Robbins, thank you, and thank you for sharing those stories of your lifelong and very pretty friend, the former first lady Rosalynn Carter.

ROBBINS: Yes.

KELLY: It's been great to talk to you. Thank you.

ROBBINS: Listen, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXIS FRENCH'S "BLUEBIRD")

KELLY: And if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or is in crisis, please call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Three digits - 988.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXIS FFRENCH'S "BLUEBIRD") 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.

Megan Lim
Sarah Handel
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.