GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan is remembering the legacy of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who advocated for mental health awareness.
Carter died on Sunday at the age of 96.
Christy Buck, the executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, said Carter’s work on mental health was groundbreaking.
“What a fierce advocate for a population that was not advocated for back years ago, especially when her husband was the president,” Buck said. “What an amazing family to leave such a legacy through the Carter Center, where there is housed an actual initiative called the Mental Health Program, where they work daily with leaders to work on public policy surrounding mental illness, mental health.”
She had the chance to meet Rosalynn Carter on the former first lady’s visit to West Michigan in 2010.
“In fact, that year, (the foundation’s) benice. (initiative) was created, so we were able to chat and as much as I felt she listened, she was very interested. She congratulated us on our efforts,” Buck said.
Carter was in town to speak at an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of West Michigan-based Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, President and CEO Mark Eastburg said.
“She was such a down-to-earth person, just talked about her kids, her grandkids and then when she had an opportunity to have the microphone, she spoke really passionately about the causes around mental health,” Eastburg said.
He said Carter was talking about mental health at a time when it was often ignored.
“She really started working on this issue in 1966. It became a focus when she and Jimmy were running for governor in Georgia and over the years, her name became just really closely associated with combating stigma, doing a better job in our public mental health system, our private mental health system,” Eastburg said.
While the former first lady is gone, Eastburg said her legacy will live on.
“I think she will be in that pantheon of people who are well known in the community who are willing to step out and say: Mental health is important. It’s important to me, it’s important to my family, and we can do better,” he said.