Raising a wall for a hero: Habitat for Humanity erects temporary tribute in Northampton for first lady Carter

A temporary doorway and wall stands Thursday afternoon in front of the Unitarian Society of Northampton that was raised by members of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity in honor of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died on Nov. 19 at the age of 96.

A temporary doorway and wall stands Thursday afternoon in front of the Unitarian Society of Northampton that was raised by members of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity in honor of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died on Nov. 19 at the age of 96. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

A temporary doorway and wall stands Thursday afternoon in front of the Unitarian Society of Northampton that was raised by members of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity in honor of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died on Nov. 19 at the age of 96.

A temporary doorway and wall stands Thursday afternoon in front of the Unitarian Society of Northampton that was raised by members of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity in honor of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died on Nov. 19 at the age of 96. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Messages left on a temporary doorway and wall in front of the Unitarian Society of Northampton that was raised by members of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity in honor of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died on Nov. 19 at the age of 96.

Messages left on a temporary doorway and wall in front of the Unitarian Society of Northampton that was raised by members of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity in honor of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died on Nov. 19 at the age of 96. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 12-01-2023 12:07 PM

NORTHAMPTON — In front of the Unitarian Society of Northampton stands a temporary doorway and wall, raised on Tuesday by members of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity in honor of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died on Nov. 19 at the age of 96.

Carter, along with her husband, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, had been active with the national Habitat for Humanity organization since 1984, helping raise and build affordable homes across the country in efforts to improve the lives of low-income families.

“Raising a wall is something that Habitat for Humanity does for all of its projects, as a way of bringing people together,” said Megan McDonough, the executive director for the Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity. “The First Lady may have passed on and gone through one doorway to the next, but I think she has built so many opportunities through her advocacy and hard work.”

The Carters also established the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, working on larger-scale affordable housing projects with more than 100,000 volunteers to build and renovate more than 4,000 homes across the U.S. and in 14 other countries.

Although the Carters never worked on a project in the Pioneer Valley, volunteers from the region have traveled to work on several of their projects in other parts of the country, including Amanda Hanley of Sunderland, who last saw them in 2019 during a project in Nashville. That project had drawn national headlines after the former president, 95 at the time, had attended the project despite suffering a fall that resulted in a black eye and required several stitches.

“They walk right amongst all the volunteers, and they really work all week,” Hanley said of the Carters. “They sit down and eat lunch wherever we eat lunch, they eat whatever food we eat. If it wasn’t for the cameras following them, you would just think they were regular, charming volunteers.”

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She described Rosalynn as someone truly in love with her husband, with the couple often holding hands to help each other down the stairs, and noted her passion for monarch butterflies, which she would talk about to anybody who would listen.

“I think that their relationship and their love is something that everyone always takes away from meeting them,” Hanley said.

At the doorway display in Northampton, passers-by have an opportunity to write upon the frames in tribute to the former first lady.

“Rosalynn, you are missed,” one inscription reads. Another one states “Rosalynn — you are a hero.”

In 2016, Habitat for Humanity named the Carters as the inaugural Habitat Humanitarians for their dedication to service. The Northampton display is one of several local observances being held at local Habitat for Humanity chapters to honor Rosalynn Carter.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.