Obituary: Hugh Carter

Click to follow
EARNEST AND self-righteous, Jimmy Carter may go down as one of the least colourful occupants of the White House. Not so his family however, and certainly not his first cousin. A presidential birthplace invariably becomes a tourist attraction; but few have been given the treatment that Hugh Carter gave the once obscure town of Plains in south-western Georgia.

When Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer from Plains, started his bid for the Presidency, Hugh was a modest state senator who ran a general goods store on Plains' main street. But, long before his cousin was defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980, the store had become an antiques and souvenir store dispensing Carter memorabilia, and its owner had turned into a listed political landmark - controversial family biographer and for visitors to Plains an ever-talkative fount of wisdom on the 39th President.

Hugh was three years older than James, but that did not prevent him writing Cousin Beedie and Cousin Hot, an account of growing up with his famous- to-be relative whose title was taken from their respective childhood nicknames.

It created uproar when it appeared in 1978, midway through the single Carter term, because of some unflattering remarks about the President's "domineering" mother Lillian, and his freewheeling brother Billy ("He's not a redneck, but can make money as a redneck").

Billy responded by suggesting its author belonged in a mental institution. However relations between Hugh Carter and Jimmy Carter remained warm until the end.

But "Cousin Beedie's" true claim to fame was as a farmer of crickets, and above all of worms. A passionate fisherman, Carter got into the bait- breeding business in 1949, starting with crickets before diversifying into worms.

Such was his success that by the mid-1950s he was calling himself "the world's largest worm farmer", producing more than 60 million a year, almost half for export. And when business began to flag at the end of the 1950s, he found an even more lucrative niche as the author of three books on worm farming. The best-known of them, 18 Secrets of Successful Worm Raising, ran into several reprints. When Carter raised the cover price from $1 to $2.95, the sales just grew faster.

Alongside the worm farming and the cashing-in on the family Presidency, Carter also managed a notable local political career. During a 15-year stint as State Senator, he worked hard to improve Georgia's schools. He never lost a campaign, even in 1978 when his opponent, a peanut farmer called Malcolm "Chicken" Wishard, backed by Hugh Carter's aggrieved aunt Lillian and cousin Billy, campaigned on the slogan "Help the Chicken take the Worm". But "Cousin Beedie" survived to retire undefeated in 1981.

Hugh Alton Carter, politician and worm farmer: born Plains, Georgia 1920; married 1942 Ruth Godwin (one son, two daughters); died Plains 24 June 1999.