Jimmy Carter attends memorial service for wife of 77 years, Rosalynn Carter

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(ATLANTA) — Former President Jimmy Carter made a rare public appearance when he attended Tuesday’s memorial service for his late wife, Rosalynn Carter, who died earlier this month.

Jimmy Carter, who has been in hospice care since February, paid tribute to his wife — who served as first lady from 1977 to 1981 — at Glenn Memorial Church at Emory University in Atlanta. The 99-year-old former president had a new suit made Monday for the occasion, and was accompanied by a physician when he left his home in Plains en route to the church.

He was seated in the front row draped in a blanket with her face etched on it.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were married for 77 years, the longest marriage of any first couple in U.S. history, and both built a lasting legacy outside the White House through their humanitarian work. Rosalynn Carter became a champion for mental health advocacy.

Amy Carter, the first couple’s only daughter, tearfully read a letter Jimmy Carter wrote to Rosalynn 75 years ago while he was serving in the Navy. Amy Carter, who was seated next to her father, was often seen holding his hand throughout the service.

“My mom spent most of her life in love with my dad. Their partnership and love story was a defining feature of her life,” she said. “Because he isn’t able to speak to you today, I am going to share some of his words about loving and missing her.”

In the letter, Jimmy Carter wrote, “While I am away, I try to convince myself that you really are not, could not be as sweet and beautiful as I remember. But when I see you, I fall in love with you all over again. Does that seem strange to you? It doesn’t to me.”

A dozen political leaders were present at the the invitation-only tribute service for the former first lady, who died on Nov. 19 at the age of 96.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden sat in the front row along with former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Hillary Clinton, as well as former first ladies Laura Bush, Michelle Obama and Melania Trump.

The Clintons and Obama traveled to Georgia on Air Force One with the Bidens, according to the White House.

Also in attendance were Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

The service began shortly at 1 p.m. and featured music from members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood performed a rendition of “Imagine.” The program was designed in accordance with her wishes, including the songs, scriptures and who would speak.

Remarks were given by the Carters’ personal pastor and readings were done by some of the former first lady’s children and grandchildren. Journalist Judy Woodruff also gave a tribute, saying what the country witnessed when they were in office was “a first lady who saw her role as going well beyond the essential warm and welcoming host to being a close and trusted, yes, adviser.”

Jason Carter shared personal anecdotes of his grandmother, including the birthday cards she sent to all her grandchildren every year and how she practiced tai chi. He called her the “rock” of their family but also an “adventurer.”

“As Rev. Warnock told me, my grandmother doesn’t need a eulogy, her life was a sermon,” he said.

President Biden was not slated to speak, the White House said Monday, but press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters he and first lady Jill Biden looked forward to “offering their condolences and participating in the event by attending.”

Biden’s relationship with the Carters spans decades, back to when he endorsed Carter for the presidency while serving as a first-term senator in 1976. Biden said earlier this year that former President Carter has asked him to deliver his eulogy.

After Rosalynn Carter’s death earlier this month, Biden said the former first couple shared great integrity.

“First Lady Rosalynn Carter walked her own path, inspiring a nation and the world along the way,” the Bidens said in a statement.

ABC News’ Joshua Hoyos and Janice McDonald contributed to this report.

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