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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Opilio Recruitment: Product Owner

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas