Of President Carter’s three sons, Jack is the one who (a) is not Chip or Jeff; (b) got washed out of the Navy for smoking pot; (c) has no desire to live in the White House. He is also a college graduate who questions the value of higher education, a lawyer who has turned away from the law and a seasoned campaigner who has sworn off politics.
The most paradoxical of the President’s offspring, however, amounts to more than the sum of his negatives. Bright, talkative and ambitious, Jack is a country boy who says he plans to remain one but who also yearns for big-league success. A 1975 graduate of the University of Georgia Law School, the husky blond went into practice with his father-in-law in Calhoun, Ga. (pop. 6,000)—some 200 miles northwest of Plains—but was soon sidetracked by his father’s presidential campaign. Since then he has found the law less appealing. “I got disillusioned with criminal law because most criminals are guilty of what they’re charged with,” he says. “I felt fulfilled occasionally when I knew my client was innocent and proved it, but ordinarily you just spend a lot of time standing around the courthouse. It’s tedious.”
Jack, 29, put in 10 months and traveled 150,000 miles on behalf of Jimmy Carter, but he does not aspire to share in the spoils. “I never even considered going to Washington,” he says. Instead, Jack is building a grain storage complex with a 250,000-bushel capacity on the outskirts of Calhoun and is looking forward to making his fortune. “You don’t make much money at law unless you have a real big practice,” he explains, “so me and one of my law partners and a guy from the bank were talking about what would be a good business to go into. The banker said we really need a soybean elevator here, so I decided to do that.”
Though it seems to have been a casual choice, Jack feels that grain storage could lead him into the export business and international trade. They are fields which interest him. “That’s what got me into this,” says Jack. “I’m a pragmatist; all of us Carters are pragmatists.” It also marks Jack’s determination to go his own way. “This will be my life’s work, and I want to become good at it,” he says. “I will always live in Calhoun, and I will always go down there and shovel soybeans. I like physical work. It makes me feel like I’m doing something. Besides, I’m not a suit person, and this is my chance not to wear one.” Though he is the son of a millionaire, and now of a President, he looks for his roots in the red Georgia soil. “Farmers are my kind of people,” he declares. “There seems to be a status attached to who has the dirtiest jeans, and I can achieve that. Of course, they also chew tobacco, and I’m not so sure I can achieve that.”
Born in Portsmouth, Va. while his father was still in the Navy, Jack grew up in Plains from the age of 6. He went to Georgia Tech “and essentially flunked out,” he admits. “I had a .8 average out of a possible 4.0. After that, I went to Emory University for a quarter, then to Georgia Southwestern and then back to Emory. Then I had a car wreck, and I joined the Navy.” His egregious academic career (“I viewed college as a block you had to climb over to do what you wanted”) was but a prelude to busting out of the Navy with a less-than-honorable discharge. “That was the worst thing in my life,” he concedes. “The low point. The thing that got me was having to tell my mother and father that I had really screwed up.” Though President Carter recently announced a sweeping review of Vietnam-era discharges, Jack will not apply to have his own upgraded. “I’m not proud of my general discharge,” Jack says, “but I’m not one of those people who have been adversely affected by it.” (Jack adds: “I think both sides make too big a deal of marijuana. I agree with Dad that small amounts should be decriminalized.”)
In 1971 Jack married Judy Langford, daughter of a Georgia state senator—they had met five years earlier while she was licking envelopes in Jimmy Carter’s first gubernatorial campaign. Today he, Judy and their 21-month-old son, Jason, live in a seven-room ranch-style home, with more than an acre of land. He plays chess, softball and tennis and is on the basketball team of the First Baptist Church of Calhoun. “I feel good about bringing Jason up here in open country,” says Jack, who has just bought the boy a half-dozen chickens and is shopping for a couple of cats. “It’s not like Plains, where you get the feeling you’re on top of the world and can see the whole sky, but I think it’s beautiful here in the mountains. And we’re not really isolated. It’s only an hour and 15 minutes to Atlanta, and just the other night the three of us went to Washington and had dinner with Dad and Mom and the prime minister of Great Britain.”