I was saddened this morning to learn of the death yesterday of Jody Powell, a long-time aide and press secretary to President Jimmy Carter. Powell was a good man. We are the poorer for his passing.
Jody and I came to know each other about five years after he left the White House. He was a visiting professor at Boston College for a couple of years in the mid-'80s, and our offices in the political science department were near each other's. Also, I had been given the assignment of shepherding him through his early weeks teaching a course on the Presidency and the Press. He knew vastly more about the subject than I, but he had not taught a college-level course before -- had never prepared a syllabus, navigated grading systems, or the like -- and needed help with those sorts of details. One night, he and several other faculty and grad students came over to my house (near the campus). We stayed up late into the night, drinking and sharing stories. At some point early in the evening, Sue, pregnant with our younger son at the time, came downstairs to say hello. Somehow, in the course of the conversation, it came out that Sue's brother is James Fallows, who served as chief speechwriter in the Carter White House and who had incurred the wrath of Powell and other Carterites when Fallows left the White House and wrote a tough critique of Carter that appeared as the lead article in the May 1979 issue of The Atlantic.* But you'd never know any of that from Jody's courtliness toward Sue. He was the epitome of the Southern gentleman. The next day, abashed that he and the others had stayed so late into the night making noise and having fun, he sent Sue a gorgeous azalea plant with a lovely, gracious note.
At the end of his stay at BC, Powell and his wife Nan took a bunch of us out to dinner, including Stephen Knott, then a graduate student who replaced me as Powell's aide-de-camp and to whom Powell became indebted and devoted.
I didn't see Jody again until about 1994 when we were living in Washington while Sue was serving in the Clinton Administration. Sue and our sons and I were at a hokey Fourth of July parade in the Palisades neighborhood of the district. We were watching a large group of dogs and dog owners parading by when I noticed that one of them was Jody. I waved to catch his attention, and when he saw us his face lit up and he walked over and greeted Sue and me by name. I thought then -- as I had thought many times before -- what a classy guy.
* As Jim notes in this item today from his Atlantic blog, he and Powell later came to have a "much more positive relationship."