Salvation South editor Chuck Reece and his family had much to be thankful for as they celebrated Thanksgiving. But he couldn’t get through the day without adding someone outside his family circle, the former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, to the list of people for whom he was grateful. Chuck explains in this week's commentary.

Rosalynn Carter chairs a meeting in Chicago, IL. for the President's Commission on Mental Health.

Then-first lady Rosalynn Carter chairs a meeting in Chicago for the President's Commission on Mental Health in 1977.

Credit: Courtesy of the National Archives



To everyone in the sound of my voice, I’d like to say, “Happy Day After Thanksgiving.”

At our family’s gathering this year, there was much to be thankful for. Number one was the simple fact of my mother-in-law’s presence at the table. She spent most of this year fighting cancer. But this week, she was savoring the turkey and dressing and umpteen side dishes along with the rest of us. She has a full head of hair, about two inches long, after spending most of the summer bald, thanks to a steady and severe routine of chemotherapy.

Now, she appears to be fully on the mend. And for that, we are deeply grateful.

But when the time to gather rolled around, I did have someone outside our inner circle for whom I was thankful. And that was the late First Lady of the United States, Rosalynn Carter, who passed away on Sunday at the marvelously extended age of ninety-six. And let’s make doubly sure we all know the correct pronunciation of her first name. RO-suh-lynn. Not RAH-suh-lynn. Almost like it was two names rolled into one—Rosa, which was her grandmother’s name, and Lynn.

Why was I particularly grateful for Mrs. Carter’s years on this earth? Two big reasons. The first is mental health.

The National Institute for Mental Health estimates that one out of every five Americans lives with a mental illness. That means every one of you listeners knows somebody who suffers—or you have suffered yourself, as I have.

I was ten years old when Rosalynn Carter became Georgia’s First Lady, and in those days in our state, we never talked about mental illnesses. If someone had one, it was swept under the rug. If they suffered too badly, that person was, and I quote, “sent to Milledgeville”—a coded reference to Central State Hospital, which was for a time the largest asylum in the world.

Rosalynn Carter changed that. From the day she first became a First Lady in 1971 until the end of her life, she tirelessly defended the rights of people with mental illnesses. Here in Georgia, now insurance companies by law must cover the treatment of a mental illness as if it were any other illness of the body. That’s thanks to Mrs. Carter.

Second, I am thankful that Rosalynn Carter served as a living model for what a marriage of equals could look like. When she became First Lady of Georgia, she said, “I knew that when my husband was elected governor that I had to have something more to do than to pour tea. I did not intend to spend my time in the governor’s mansion in that way.” And she did not, neither then nor in the remaining five decades of her life.

Her work changed the lives of thousands upon thousands of people for the better. We were lucky to have her in the world with us for as long as we did.

Y’all have a great holiday weekend and come visit us at


Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. You can also find them here at and please download and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform as well.