The face at right is becoming more familiar; if Jimmy Carter is elected President, the face is likely to be one of the most visible in the country.
It belongs to Joseph Lester Powell, 33, press secretary—and much, much more—to the Democratic nominee. “Jody Powell,” says a campaign aide, “is one of the few people who have Carter’s complete trust.”
In a strange way that trust interferes with his dealings with the 200 to 300 reporters, photographers and technicians who travel with Carter. Powell is generally credited with honesty and toughness. One journalist adds, however: “He’s the best-informed press secretary ever, but he’s too busy making policy decisions and giving advice to be a press secretary.”
The press generally blames Powell for Carter’s decision to offer himself to Playboy. “Carter has the worst press I’ve ever seen,” another reporter complains, “and Powell must be responsible.” About the Playboy interview, Powell says only: “In the short term it might be bad. In the long term it might not. I don’t know.”
Powell got to know Carter in 1970 when he drove the candidate all over Georgia during his gubernatorial campaign. The chauffeur became spokesman, then press secretary, finally adviser and nearly alter ego. (Jody was born Sept. 30, Carter a day later. The difference in their ages is 19 years.)
Jody is the son of a Vienna, Ga. postman-turned-farmer. A practicing Southern Baptist, he nonetheless drinks vodka and tonic in the summer, bourbon and soda when it’s cold. He is a heavy smoker, usually of other people’s cigarettes. He boasts that he once bummed a cigarette from Golda Meir.
As a boy he dreamed of a military career and was admitted to the Air Force Academy. Matter-of-factly, Jody Powell adds: “In my senior year I was expelled for cheating on a history exam. I looked at a notebook in a lounge. It was a humbling experience, and it made me more tolerant of other people’s shortcomings and mistakes.”
He transferred to Georgia State University at Atlanta and on a blind date met Nan Jared, a schoolteacher. “I knew I was going to marry Jody the night I met him,” she says. She did so in 1966. Jody worked for a year adjusting group claims at the Life Insurance Company of Georgia and hated it. “If the expressway was jammed in the morning,” says Nan, “he’d come back home.” Then Emory University offered him a fellowship to study political science. “That’s when I realized just how bright he is,” his wife says.
While Jody has traveled with Carter for the past year and a half, Nan Powell has continued to teach second grade at integrated Nancy Creek School near the Powells’ hilltop condominium in suburban Atlanta. “Teaching is my thing,” Nan, 33, says. “If we went to Washington, I’d want to live in close so I could teach in public school. I don’t think there is anything more important than for children to go to public school.”
On the road, Powell is known as a man of “sometimes pretty harsh moods” (an aide says) and careless habits in dress. When Nan sees him on TV she says she thinks of him only as the exasperating husband who always leaves his dresser drawers open. He wears his shoes until they have holes in them. He recently lost his watch.
A devoted hunter (especially of quail), Jody likes to say his hobbies these days are eating and drinking. During the frenetic primaries, he hardly had a chance to choke down a sandwich during 16-to 18-hour days. Now the pace is less intense and the candidate’s 727 jet Peanut One more luxurious. “There are phones on the plane and we don’t have to rush to the pay phones and fight the reporters for them anymore. And I love those hot towels they give you to bathe your face,” Powell says, with triumph. “It’s very different from the primaries.”
Reporters like him personally, and so, in a recently noted phenomenon, do teenage girls—”Powell’s groupies,” as they are called by an amused staff. When the girls first began asking for his autograph a few weeks ago, Jody would respond, “You’ve got to be kidding.” Now he just signs.
The Powell family—Jody, Nan and daughter Emily, 9—is very close. When he was in graduate school and his wife teaching, he often took care of the little girl all day, dressing and feeding her. His prolonged absences from home now bother him. “This is no good for any sort of family life,” he complains.
Powell sometimes raises the possibility that he might not go to Washington if Carter wins—although no one in the press believes him. “Jimmy and I haven’t talked about it,” Jody says. “If he needs me to do something I’ll go, but I don’t think I’d enjoy Washington life as it has been described to me.” Jody Powell brushes a blond lock off a creased forehead. “It does not seem to be an environment of particularly lasting relationships.”