Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dooly County Native & Carter Press Secretary Jody Powell Dead at 65

New York Times:
Jody Powell, a sandy-haired former Georgia farm boy who was President Jimmy Carter’s closest and most trusted aide, working with him from his days as Georgia governor through the Carter presidency, died Monday at his home near Cambridge, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He was 65.

Mr. Powell collapsed outside his home, and efforts to revive him at a hospital were futile, said Jack Nelson, who hurled questions at Mr. Powell three decades ago as Washington bureau chief of The Los Angeles Times and became his good friend afterward. Mr. Nelson said Mr. Powell’s wife, Nan, had told him her husband apparently suffered a heart attack.

After leaving the White House in 1981, Mr. Powell was a syndicated columnist, author and public relations executive. In recent years, he was chairman of Powell Tate, an influential Washington-based public relations firm in which he was a partner, somewhat improbably, with Sheila Tate, a former press aide for Nancy Reagan.
Mr. Powell’s official White House title was press secretary to Mr. Carter, but he was much more than that. Unlike many White House spokesmen, Mr. Powell really did have his boss’s ear and really was privy to his boss’s thinking.

“Jody was beside me in every decision I made as a candidate, governor and president, and I could always depend on his advice and counsel being candid and direct,” Mr. Carter said in a statement on Monday. “I will miss him dearly.”

Mr. Powell’s path to the White House really began in 1966, when he was walking through a south Georgia shopping center and a smiling man thrust a hand toward him and said, “Hi! I’m Jimmy Carter, and I’m running for governor.”

Then not long out of college, Mr. Powell took an immediate liking to the aspiring governor. They had roots in the same region in Georgia: Mr. Carter was from Plains, and Mr. Powell grew up in Vienna, about 25 miles away. Mr. Carter was a peanut farmer. So was Mr. Powell’s father, who also raised cotton. And both men were churchgoing Baptists.

Mr. Carter lost in 1966, and when he ran for governor again in 1970, Mr. Powell volunteered to work in the campaign. He was Mr. Carter’s chauffeur and formed an easy rapport with the candidate, who was impressed by Mr. Powell’s knowledge of politics. Soon, Mr. Powell was functioning as press secretary, a position that became official when Mr. Carter moved into the Governor’s Mansion.

But reporters liked and respected him for the most part, Mr. Nelson, the former Los Angeles Times reporter, said Monday. “If he wasn’t going to tell you something, he’d tell you,” Mr. Nelson recalled. “But if he told you something, you could take it to the bank.”
Jim Wooten, a former White House correspondent for The New York Times who covered the Carter presidency, agreed. And those who were lulled into underestimating Mr. Powell because of his Southern drawl and “good old boy” ways did so at their peril, Mr. Wooten said. “He was really quick, whip-smart,” he said on Monday.
Joseph Lester Powell Jr., who was nicknamed Jody after the young hero of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings classic “The Yearling,” was born on Sept. 30, 1943, in Cordele, Ga. An A student and member of the debate team in high school, he also played quarterback on the football team. (Despite his athletic skills, he was a chain-smoker for many years.)

When he was a senior cadet at the Air Force Academy in 1964, Mr. Powell was expelled for cheating on a history exam. He finished his studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta and was doing research on populist political movements when he began his association with Mr. Carter.

Mr. Powell’s survivors, in addition to his wife, include his mother, June Powell; a daughter, Emily Boddy, of Richmond, Va.; a sister, Susan Glenn, of Hilton Head, S.C., and three grandchildren.

But his principal role in life was as a defender of Jimmy Carter. He stayed in character when he wrote “The Other Side of the Story” (Morrow, 1984), in which he accused many journalists of looking down their noses at Mr. Carter and his fellow Georgians. (Mr. Powell described Rowland Evans and Robert D. Novak as “two bombastic rascals whose only redeeming virtue is their lack of pretension to be anything else.”)

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