Rosalynn Smith Carter 1927-2023 Remembered

Rosalynn Carter led a life in service as a wife, mother, and to her state, and country.  She was a member of the Iris Garden Club and was granted a GCG Honorary Life Membership in 1993. 

To honor her roots in southwest Georgia Mrs. Carter asked her friend Ann Dotson from Plains and a GCG Board member to create flower arrangements at the White House for Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in 1977.  Ann Dodson organized the project and a committee to help. Fred Collins drove a refrigerated truck filled with Camellias from Massee Lane Gardens and other fresh Georgia greens and flowers from Plains to the White House. Other materials were flown to Washington on Sunday before the inauguration by John Robinson and Robert Hill of Winder, GA.

A local newspaper contributor, Leila Case from Americus, accompanied them to take pictures and do the write-up.  The ladies were assigned different rooms to embellish, and they were described as beautiful.  A list of the committee members and contributors is listed below.  Unfortunately, only a few black and white photos of the arrangements have been recovered from newspaper archives.  They include several interesting articles from The Americus Times Reporter and one from The Washington Post covering GCG’s involvement with the Carter Inauguration. They can be viewed in the gallery below.

She continued to express her love for gardening and the environment through the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail.  The Trail began in 2013 after she learned of the decline of the Monarch Butterfly.  She contacted her neighbor and friend Annette Wise for help with the design of a pollinator garden on the Carter’s property in Plains.  She and Jimmy went so far as to visit where the Monarchs over-winter in Mexico.  Since then, the trail has grown to over 3,000 registered public gardens.  Annette Wise serves as current Co-Founder and President of the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail.  A Symposium is held there each year along with several other events. 

She was a dedicated advocate for mental health reform naming her campaign promise “to guide legislative reform on behalf of the nation’s mentally ill”.  Her many achievements include receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Honorary Chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health and she became the first First Lady to address the World Health Organization in Geneva Switzerland.  She actively contributed to the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program, created the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, worked with the Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity to name a few of her many other contributions.  Her coffin was draped with Camellias as she was taken to her final resting place. 

From the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail Facebook Page “The Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail was asked to provide flowers and greenery for Rosalynn Carter’s casket sprays for the Atlanta and Plains funeral services. Over one hundred Camellia and Sasanqua bloom were cut from the Carter’s yard and waxed for the sprays. We also were pleased to have Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley assisting us with flowers which were used in the sprays as well as flower arrangements for the repose at the Carter Center in Atlanta and in Plains.”

More information on her life can be found, and

GCG Members Remember Rosalynn Carter

Member Willie Maxell:

I have served on the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail Board since 2018.  It was a pleasure to work with Miss Rosalynn and she was able to attend the events until the last two years.

Shirley Lewis, GCG Emeritus:

At a GCG Board meeting, shortly after she became an Honorary member, I was seated beside Mrs. Rosalynn Carter, when she whispered to me, “Please excuse me, it’s time for a photo opportunity.” She quietly got up and left the meeting room. When she returned, she whispered, “That was fun!”

Jane Hersey, GCG President, 2017-2019:

I first met Rosalynn Carter accompanying my daughter’s primary school field trip to the Governor’s Mansion. I remember being surprised at how at ease and friendly she was with the more than 30 perpetually-in-motion young children. Mrs. Carter pointed out to the children the sewing machine she used to make some of her daughter Amy’s clothes and the special chair with plastic on the seat to protect the fabric from spills where Amy sat at the big dining room table.

Forty years later I attended a symposium in Plains while serving as President Elect of GCG. My husband and I were honored to be seated for dinner with President and Mrs. Carter.  It turned out to be one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of my life – it was like spending the evening with long-time friends. Rosalynn was still the same warm, accessible, and humble lady I had met all those years before – unchanged by the many exceptional experiences, contributions, and accomplishments of her life’s journey. I still smile when I think of that wonderful evening.

Later, while serving as GCG President, I had several occasions to visit Plains and interact with Rosalynn. During one of those times, I received one of my favorite ‘pass-along’ plants from Mrs. Carter – a Spider Plant/Airplane Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) that was an offspring of one that grew on her porch. My plant has flourished and produced a multitude of babies that I have continued to frequently share through the years. The origin of the mother plant never fails to impress the recipients!

A statue of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter sits outside two buildings dedicated in her honor at Georgia Southwestern State University, her alma mater and home of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers.  

White House Committee and Contributors

Floral Arrangements by:

Mrs. Sam Singer of Lumpkin                                 Ground Floor Corridor arrangement

Mrs. Ben T. Carr of Blairsville                                The Library

Mrs. Milton Hagerson of Plains                             Vermeil Room

Mrs. Alton Draughon of Pinehurst                         China Room

Mrs. Haskell Venard of Atlanta                              Diplomatic Reception Room

Mrs. T. Edward Clyatt of Atlanta

Mrs. John Cherry of Atlanta

Mrs. Lawson Neel of Thomasville                         North Entrance and Cross Hall

Mrs. R.A. Bell of Cairo                                            East Room

Mrs. Cason J. Callaway of Hamilton                    Green Room

Mrs. Fred Scott Sr of Thomasville 

Miss Betty Orvin of Savannah                               Blue Room

Mrs. Ben T. Ambrose of Vienna                           Red Room

Mrs. Clarke W. Duncan of Buena Vista               State Dining Room

White House Decorating Committee

Miss Ann Dodson – Chair

Mrs. Lawson Neel – Co chair

Mrs. John Cherry – Co chair

Mrs. Haskell Venard – Co chair

Mrs. Ben Ambrose

Mrs. RA Bell

Mrs. Cason Callaway

Mrs. Ben Carr

Mrs. T. Edmonds Clyatt

Mrs. Alton Draughon

Mrs. Milton Hagerson

Mrs. Fred Scott

Mrs. Sam Singer

Assisted by; Richard Ambrose- Clarksville, TN

Leon Holloway – Americus