Recalling Jody PowellWhite House press secretaries often have a higher public profile than the president himself. They take the blows often meant for the president, but they rarely get the bows.
By: Helen Thomas, Hearts Newspapers, The Jamestown Sun
WASHINGTON — White House press secretaries often have a higher public profile than the president himself. They take the blows often meant for the president, but they rarely get the bows.
The passing of Jody Powell of a heart attack at the age of 65 brought back memories of his years as press secretary to President Jimmy Carter.
Powell was like a son to Carter. So it was left to Carter to go to a nursing home to inform Jody’s ailing mother that he had died Sept. 14 while gathering firewood at his Eastern Maryland home.
Powell had been Carter’s driver and aide-de-camp when Carter ran successfully for governor of Georgia and then, in 1976, for the presidency.
In his eulogy at an Oct. 3 memorial service at the Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., Carter recalled that he and Powell often stayed in private homes while on the campaign trail for the Democratic presidential nomination. When they couldn’t find free lodging: “We would rent the cheapest hotel with a double bed. And those are not the most pleasant moments of my life.”
Carter made the crowd of mourners roar with laughter when he said Powell “snored a lot.”
Those were lean days for Carter, a relatively unknown former peanut farmer who was campaigning in Iowa, eager to talk to any reporter with a scratchpad and a tape recorder.
One night, Powell awakened Carter to tell him that he was going to be on a television show the next morning. On the way to the station Powell was very evasive about the program until he finally asked Carter if he knew any recipes. He had booked the candidate on a cooking show!
The former president said Powell “knew how to take a mountain of problems and make a molehill out of it,” adding: “He didn’t do that often enough.”
When they campaigned in Wisconsin, a “bunch of antagonistic students” pelted Carter with peanuts. When later asked about the incident, Powell said, “I’m just glad Gov. Carter doesn’t grow watermelons.”
Carter said when they arrived in Washington everyone thought they were joined at the hip. And when Jody said, “‘This is the policy of the government of the United States of America,’ they knew he was speaking for me,” Carter told the gathering.
The former president acknowledged that “there were a lot of crises, up and down” and “we had some successes. We had a lot of failures. We had a lot of personal disappointments.”
Carter recalled that he sometimes felt discouraged during the day, but was much better after talking to Jody, who told him “that the days in Washington were always worse than the nights.”
“I realized that there were a lot of things that Jody and Hamilton (Jordan, his chief of staff) did that I never knew about — and for that I have always thanked God,” Carter quipped.
He touched on the fact that Powell was a Civil War buff and had researched all the battles in which Carter’s great-grandfather had fought for the Confederacy, including Gettysburg.
Powell joshed with reporters, especially those from the South, and handed out scoops to his favorites.
He hailed from Vienna, Ga., and had all of us calling his hometown “Vyanna,” as he did.
Carter gave his friend the highest praise, saying he was perhaps the only press secretary who never told a lie, though he admitted he had to be evasive at times when “we were planning something that was momentous and we didn’t want it to be revealed ahead of time.”
Between tears and laughter, Carter told Powell’s family and friends that Jody was “a patriot, who understood this nation and its history.”
He also had integrity, courage and “a tender heart.”
That’s all it takes to be a good press secretary.
(Helen Thomas can be reached at 202-263-6400 or at the e-mail address hthomas(at)hearstdc.com).
(c) 2009 Hearst Newspapers
Distributed by King Features Syndicate