Former RCI National Program Director Laura McConatha Shares Memories of Rosalynn Carter

Published 12:15 am Monday, November 27, 2023

Laura McConatha, retired national program director for The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, gave an interview on Nov. 25th, speaking about the profound impact Rosalynn Carter had left on her life.

“I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting these past several days and I’m really amazed at just how many things Rosalynn said and did that profoundly impacted me personally and professionally. I’m tremendously grateful for having had the opportunity to work with her and know her as such a kind and humble person.”

She talked about how many people Rosalynn Carter’s work at RCI had touched.

“Her passion and her influence insured that RCI received funding for piloting some evidence-based programs that have made such a difference to literally thousands of people throughout the country.”

McConatha talked about the special focus Rosalynn Carter gave to caregivers who were caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and those caring for returning service members.

“Most of the military caregivers were a spouse who also had children, so they were sort of caregiving on both ends of the spectrum.”

She expressed admiration for how this dedication led Rosalynn Carter to bridge party lines, working with Senator Elizebeth Dole to provide better support for military caregivers.

“I can’t think of two more powerful women who represent different political parties, but they both were there to collaborate to support our military caregivers.”

McConatha talked about how Rosalynn Carter’s perseverance was tested by numerous setbacks to legislation aimed at mental health and caregiving.

“It was like one step forward and two steps back. There was legislation passed, and then a different president would come in and undo that. So those were the things that I think were especially hard for her to see, that there were strides made in the right direction, and then it could all be undone just by the change of administration.

But she never lost heart and she never gave up hope. I think that hope is a powerful word when I think about her, because she would just dig in her heals and try harder to make sure that she gained back the ground that might have been lost.”

She mentioned she was especially inspired by Rosalynn Carter’s tenacity.

“I learned from her that it might be ten, twenty, thirty years from now that something that you said or did will have an impact on somebody, but you still do it because it’s going to have that impact. That there will always be benefits whether you see them or not.”

 

McConatha also recounted several memories involving Rosalynn Carter that were dear to her. She told one story about the gala for the twentieth anniversary of the RCI, when they were told Jimmy Carter could not attend.

“He usually did, but he couldn’t attend because he was in another country, monitoring an election, and I happened to be standing on stage with Rosalynn, in the GSW storm dome. She was preparing to hand out the Rosalynn Carter leadership and caregiving award, and I saw President Carter quietly walking up behind us to surprise her, because he wasn’t supposed to be there. When she saw him, she burst into tears of joy. Right when she saw him and burst into tears, I burst into tears too.”

She remembered another occasion when Rosalynn Carter gave her a bracelet.

“She’s known that I’ve always been seeking to be a peacemaker and to help bring about peace to the world. I was attending Maranatha Baptist Church one Sunday, and when she saw me, she ran over to hug me, but then she reached inside of her purse and pulled something out, and it was a beautiful, beaded bracelet that spelled out the word peace. She helped put it on my wrist. She told me that it was a fair-trade bracelet that had come from nearby Koinonia farm, and that she thought of me when she saw it. So that’s just a prize possession, and I was incredibly moved that she brought me a gift like that.”

McConatha summarized the characteristics of Rosalynn Carter that had made such a lasting impact on her life.

“She was a woman of great faith, and courage and strength, and I feel like she passed that on to people that she was around on a regular basis. A whole lot of us are way better off for having had that.”