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Former first lady Rosalynn Carter's Georgia hometown honors her life

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The small town of Plains, Ga., is remembering former first lady Rosalynn Carter. The wife of former President Jimmy Carter died yesterday at her home there. She was 96 years old. Grant Blankenship with Georgia Public Broadcasting is in Plains. Hi there.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP, BYLINE: Hey. How are you doing?

SUMMERS: I am well. Nationally, Rosalynn Carter was well-known for a number of things, but particularly her work on mental health issues, her advocacy for caregivers. How do people there in her hometown of Plains remember her?

BLANKENSHIP: Well, you know, they remember her as a visionary in other ways, too. The most obvious examples of that are the butterfly gardens bearing her name that are scattered across town. I met Annette Wise working in one right by the city welcome sign. She says the gardens started over a decade ago, when Mrs. Carter first learned of worldwide decline of insects and asked Annette Wise if she'd help create what, today, you might know as your pollinator garden.

ANNETTE WISE: And I said, yes, ma'am, I'll be glad to. So that one garden - that started in her front yard. We wanted to have milkweed in it and native plants and plants that would attract butterflies and serve as a habitat for them. But that one garden has led to over 3,000 gardens scattered all around the United States.

BLANKENSHIP: Yeah, and not just the United States. Annette Wise says today there are official Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail gardens in Europe and Japan.

SUMMERS: Wow. Now, I know both Carters were born and raised there in Plains. What can you tell us about their lives when they grew up there?

BLANKENSHIP: Well, you know, they both attended Plains High School, where the mascot was the buffalo. And you can still buy a Plains Buffalo T-shirt in the gift shop in the school, which today is the National Park Service's Jimmy Carter Historic Site. And, of course, next week it will see people from all over the world who will gather to honor Mrs. Carter. And that's also where I met Lisa Cobb of Butler, Ga. She was one of three women charged with cleaning up the classrooms and hallways - you know, vacuuming and dusting and just getting the place ready for all those visitors. And to her, that was an important way to reflect back on Mrs. Carter's qualities.

LISA COBB: Decency and respect. And you should respect them. Respect her because she put up with a lot, being the president's wife, going different places and raising a family. It's a lot.

BLANKENSHIP: Yeah. I mean, remember; Carter raised four children while, first, you know, keeping books for the family peanut farm and later advocating for mental health care and eventually being known as the first activist first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.

SUMMERS: The Carters traveled the world after they left the White House, but it seems like they always were pulled back to Plains and spent most of their lives there. Is that so?

BLANKENSHIP: Yeah, yeah. They did stay here in Plains. I mean - and this is where they had neighbors and family and fellow parishioners at Maranatha Baptist Church, like Winston Churchill, who I met downtown by the historic rail depot.

WINSTON CHURCHILL: Every third Saturday of the month, we give away a distribution of food to the poor, and that's when I met her. You know, I shook her hands right here. To me, she was humble, just not political. You know, she was always one person to another, you know?

BLANKENSHIP: And that's really the common thread. It's - whether it was one on one or on the international stage, Rosalynn Carter is being remembered as a humble person who did the best to live out her values through causes she believed in really to the benefit of all of us.

SUMMERS: Greg (ph), do you have a sense of how the folks there in Plains are planning to celebrate Rosalynn Carter's life?

BLANKENSHIP: Right. Yeah. After three days of observance, both here and in Atlanta, she will be laid to rest here in Plains at the Carter family home.

SUMMERS: Grant Blankenship with Georgia Public Broadcasting. Grant, thank you.

BLANKENSHIP: Yeah, thanks for your time.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIV KLIL HAHORESH'S "BIRTH") 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.

Grant came to public media after a career spent in newspaper photojournalism. As an all platform journalist he seeks to wed the values of public radio storytelling and the best of photojournalism online.