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Jody Powell dies at 65; press secretary to President Carter

Jody Powell, who was White House press secretary and among the closest and most trusted advisors to President Carter, died Monday of a heart attack. He was 65.

Powell, a member of the so-called Georgia Mafia that descended on Washington after Carter was elected president, was stricken at his home near Cambridge on Maryland's eastern shore, said Jack Nelson, a retired Los Angeles Times reporter and close friend of Powell.

Nelson said Powell had been working with firewood with a helper who briefly stepped away. Powell was discovered a short time later on the ground. Nelson said Powell had had a previous heart attack in recent years.

Powell, who first worked with Carter during his campaign for governor in Georgia in the 1960s, joined Carter's presidential campaign in 1976 and served as chief White House spokesman from 1977 to 1981.

In a statement, Carter called Powell's death "a great personal loss" and said, "I will miss him dearly."

"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," Carter said. "No one worked more closely with me than Jody."

A Georgia native known for his deep Southern drawl, Powell -- along with fellow Georgian Hamilton Jordan -- was among Carter's closest advisors and confidants. Jordan died last year after a long battle with cancer.

At one point during his presidency, Carter said, "Jody Powell knows me better than anyone else except my wife."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday he was "deeply saddened" to hear of Powell's death.

Born Sept. 30, 1943, on a cotton and peanut farm, Powell grew up in Vienna, Ga., and wanted to become an Air Force pilot. But he was expelled from the U.S. Air Force Academy during his senior year for cheating. He then attended Georgia State University and later Emory University where he received a master's degree in political science.

He joined Carter's gubernatorial campaign as a driver and all-around handyman and stayed with him through his presidency.

A man who at times could display his temper, Powell remained a staunch defender of the Carter presidency.

When Republican Sen. John McCain frequently cited Carter in negative terms during last year's presidential campaign, Powell was quick to cite Carter's early warnings about the country's oil dependence and his early calls for clean energy development.

After leaving the White House, Powell remained and prospered as part of the Washington establishment.

He headed the Washington public relations firm of Ogilvy & Mather, then started Powell Tate with Sheila Tate, former press secretary to First Lady Nancy Reagan.

In 1985, he published his memoirs, "The Other Side of the Story." He also wrote a syndicated column for The Times and was an ABC News commentator.

Powell is survived by his wife, Nan, and daughter, Emily; three grandchildren; his sister, Susan; and his mother, June Powell, in Americus, Ga.

Dale Leibach, a longtime friend and business associate since their days in the Carter White House, said the former president went to a nursing home where Powell's mother lives to tell her of her son's death before she heard it on the news.

news.obits@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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