PLAINS, Ga. — Philip Kurland remembers wondering whether Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter actually lived here when he first opened his retail store in this tiny town in the 1990s. Just then, the former president and former first lady strolled into his shop off East Main Street, warmly embraced him and told him they were glad he was there.
“That took my breath away,” said Kurland, owner of the Plains Trading Post, which sells political memorabilia, including items from Carter’s campaigns.
A friendship between the three ensued. The Carters routinely visited his store. Kurland chatted with her about politics. And the former president prayed with Kurland when the entrepreneur was battling a serious illness that nearly killed him.
“In my heart, I consider the Carters part of my family,” said Kurland, a former publisher and direct mail marketing specialist who moved here from Maryland. “They took an active interest in everything we have done. And they care.”
Kurland is among many people in Rosalynn Carter’s hometown in rural Georgia who are mourning her death this week. They remember her as a champion for decency and human rights and someone who had a heart for the vulnerable, including people suffering from mental illnesses.
Rosalynn Carter, who turned 96 in August, died Sunday after the Carter family announced in May she was suffering from dementia. She and former President Jimmy Carter, her husband of 77 years, were born in Plains and lived in the same house since 1961, save their time in the governor’s mansion and White House.
The couple were regularly seen around town for decades, stopping to chat with locals. But they rarely ventured out this year, as the former first lady’s health deteriorated and the former president, who turned 99 last month, entered home hospice care in February.
Kathie Roberts, a retired municipal worker from Plains, spoke about the former first lady as she prepared to hang holiday lights downtown Monday. She remembered meeting her years ago at the Plains Historic Inn.
“She was just so personable. She didn’t know me from Adam. She was just kind, friendly, warm,” Roberts said, calling Carter “such a symbol of the community.”
“She was a very accomplished first lady, almost like an unsung hero.”
©2023 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.