Architect Of Carter Presidency

By Joe Holley and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hamilton Jordan, 63, a fun-loving political operative who helped propel a virtually unknown politician from the Georgia statehouse to the White House, died last night at his home in Atlanta, close friends said.

He had been treated over the past 20 years for six types of cancer.

As Jimmy Carter's young and tireless campaign director, Jordan (pronounced JER-den) was the principal architect of the 70-page blueprint that laid out the strategy for electing a Democratic president from the South. Along the way, he cultivated a reputation as a Georgia "good ole boy," a characterization that masked an astute political mind.

"His mind seems to fit Carter's like a peanut fits its shell," Garrett Epps said in a 1978 story for The Washington Post Magazine. "Jordan's adult personality is shaped around Carter's."

In a statement released last night, Carter called Jordan "my closest political advisor, a trusted confidant, and my friend," praising his "judgment, insight, and wisdom," as well as "his compassion and love of our country."

Jordan received vast credit for the unlikely electoral victory of the Navy nuclear engineer turned evangelical peanut farmer. Rolling Stone magazine likened him and press secretary Jody Powell to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

After the Carter administration took office, Jordan played a key role in several administration accomplishments. He chaired task forces on civil service reform and the Saudi-Egyptian arms package. He also played a vital role in the successful effort to uphold Carter's nuclear carrier veto and the repeal of a Turkish arms embargo.

Carter bestowed the title of White House chief of staff on his 34-year-old political adviser as part of a comprehensive shakeup of the administration. Jordan's first task was to oversee a personnel evaluation that ran down to the level of deputy assistant secretaries in the Cabinet departments and to the middle level of staff aides in the White House.

Jordan also took on more of a foreign policy role in the waning days of the administration. In 1980, the president sent him to Panama to mediate a dispute between Panamanian authorities and a team of American doctors about medical treatment and facilities for the deposed shah of Iran.

Jordan's major success was his role in the passage of the Panama Canal treaties. He organized a series of White House briefings for influential people in key senators' districts and flew to Panama for a long visit with Gen. Omar Torrijos, the Panamanian head of state. He also met or talked almost daily with Gabriel Lewis, Panama's ambassador to the United States.

Powell, the former Carter press secretary, said last night that in the last 20 years of Jordan's life, "when he fought cancer so courageously for so long," there was "a reflection and amplification of the qualities I saw in him in the 20 years before then -- courage and unfailing good humor and concern for other people."

Jordan spent the past two decades not merely fighting for his own life but also "trying to help other people fighting cancer," Powell said.

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