Jody Powell and his faint air of sadness

Jimmy Carter's admired and amiable press secretary is dead at 65, stirring memories of that Georgia gang.
Jimmy Carter's admired and amiable press secretary is dead at 65, stirring memories of that Georgia gang.

If I wrote about the passing of every former friend or colleague, I would at my age do little else. But some are worth noting. One of these was the passing earlier this week of the former press secretary for President Jimmy Carter, Jody Powell, at 65.

I did not learn until reading his obituary that Powell had been expelled from the Air Force Academy, in his senior year, for cheating on a history test. He more than made up for that with his later works. Powell returned to his hometown in Georgia, a few miles from the residence of Jimmy Carter. Powell and Carter went way back. When Carter ran unsuccessfully for governor, Powell served as his aide and sometime driver. When he ran a second time, successfully, Powell became his gubernatorial press secretary.

I first met Powell in 1976 during Carter's presidential campaign. I spent time in Atlanta pulling together political/policy briefing books to prepare Carter for his debates with President Ford and other campaign appearances. Aside from Carter's national policy staff, most of whom came from D.C., the campaign was not hospitable to "outsiders." Carter himself was a cold fish who kept even his closest staff at arm's length and insecure.

Powell, though, was courteous and amiable and quite open to input. He frequently, I noted, had a cigarette in hand. After the election, he became White House press secretary. Although Carter was not popular with the White House press corps, Powell quickly became so and remained the same modest, positive person I had met in Atlanta.

In later years I would encounter Jody Powell regularly in the capital. When I learned that he had died of heart disease, I recalled his smoking and the last time I saw him. It was in late 1997, just before I left Washington, D.C. for good. Emerging from my dentist's office I encountered Powell leaving a doctor's office down the hallway. Standing together at the elevator, he told me had been lacking energy and becoming short of breath. He had that day been taking some medical tests.

There always was a faint air of sadness about Powell, perhaps coming from his Air Force Academy embarrassment. He had no way of knowing that it would have made no difference whatever to the legion of friends and admirers he accumulated during his political and public service. A good man lost too soon.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of