Jody Powell: Trusted press secretary who accompanied Jimmy Carter from Georgia to the White House

Jody Powell's association with the man he would serve as President began like a B-movie cliché, in a shopping centre in southern Georgia in 1966. "Hi," said the beaming figure with the toothy grin, thrusting a hand in his direction, "I'm Jimmy Carter and I'm running for governor." The young student was quickly smitten, the voters of Georgia unfortunately less so. Carter was defeated that year. But he won the governorship in 1970, and with Powell at his side went on to complete one of the most extraordinary political ascents in modern US history.

Jody Powell, son of a peanut farmer and born in the small farming community of Vienna (pronounced Vy-anna), some 25 miles from Carter's hometown, Plains, was, along with Hamilton Jordan, a founder member of the "Georgia Mafia" that plotted Carter's improbable journey from hardly known former southern governor to the White House.

There the pair would be the 39th President's most intimate advisers, Jordan as Carter's chief of staff and Powell as his press secretary. In reality, he was all that and far more. No White House spokesman has been closer to his boss. "He probably knows me better than anyone except my wife," Carter once said of Powell.

The job of press secretary to the President is famously one of the toughest in Washington, and one in which access to the boss is crucial. Powell's access to Carter, combined with his directness and quick southern humour, made him one of the most effective and respected of the breed, if not always universally loved.

Jack Nelson, who as Los Angeles Times Washington bureau chief sparred often with Powell and later became a close friend, put it this way to the New York Times: "If he wasn't going to tell you something, he'd tell you, but if he told you something, you could take it to the bank." And what he did say could be hilarious. Responding to attacks on Carter by the former segregationist Georgia governor Lester Maddox, Powell once noted that "being called a liar by Lester Maddox is like being called ugly by a frog."

Powell, unusually, lasted the full four years of an administration – an especially turbulent period in which highs like the Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt were outnumbered by lows, among them inflation, a major oil crisis, the 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis, and Carter's crushing 1980 defeat by Ronald Reagan.

Until that defeat Powell liked to project himself as the classic Washington outsider. As a political science student in the 1960s he had studied populist movements – of which Carter's 1976 come-from-nowhere victory, exploiting the country's sour post-Watergate mood, was a perfect example. He and Hamilton made a point of attending decorous Washington functions tieless and in blue jeans.

But in his post-White House existence Powell fed happily from the hand he used to bite. He became a columnist and TV commentator, before entering public relations and in 1991 joining with Sheila Tate, once press secretary to first lady Nancy Reagan, to found the lobbying firm Powell Tate.

The slow southern drawl which appealed to PR business clients like airlines and tobacco companies also earned him spots on two celebrated public television documentaries, on baseball and the Civil War. In the latter he was the voice of the great Confederate general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Indeed, in his spare time Powell was a keen student of the war, claiming that nine of his ancestors had served in Southern ranks.

Rupert Cornwell



Joseph Lester "Jody" Powell, US government official, public relations executive: born Cordele, Georgia 30 September 1943; married 1966 Nan Jared (one daughter); died Cambridge, Maryland 14 September 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable