Billy Carter Biography

(1937–1988)
Billy Carter is best known for his connections to his brother, Jimmy Carter, the former President of the United States.

Synopsis

Billy Carter was born March 29, 1937 in Plains, Georgia. He was the younger brother of President Jimmy Carter and often lived in his shadow. Once Jimmy was elected President, Billy took advantage of the new found fame to start a beer business, Billy Beer, which eventually folded. Later, Billy made a deal with the Libyan government that brought scrutiny to him and his brother.

Early Life

Businessman, brother of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. Born William Alton Carter III on March 29, 1937, in Plains, Georgia. The young brother of President Jimmy Carter, Billy Carter gained notoriety for his failed beer business and his business dealings with the Libyan government in the 1970s. With a thirteen-year age difference, Billy spent much of his life in the shadow of his older brother Jimmy. They grew up poor in a small rural town with their parents and two sisters. Billy was very close with their father Earl, a farmer and businessman.

After Earl’s death from pancreatic cancer in 1953, Billy was heartbroken and became even more upset when his brother Jimmy came back to Plains to take over the family farm and related businesses. A poor student, Billy dropped out at seventeen to join the U.S. Marine Corps. While in the service, he married his wife Sybil and started a family. He and his family moved to Plains after Carter completed his time with the corps.

Family Business

Carter worked for the family business and gradually took over the responsibilities from his older brother as Jimmy began to pursue a career in politics. Billy’s down-home, near redneck persona was a sharp contrast to his brother’s more reserved and refined image. Billy’s public image was an asset and a liability to Jimmy as he ran for the presidency in 1976. Billy’s country-boy style endeared him to many and highlighted Jimmy’s southern roots. But his frequent beer drinking and candid nature could not have been easy for someone on the campaign trail.

After Jimmy took office in 1977, Billy moved from Plains to a nearby town with his family to avoid the crowds that came to see the president’s hometown. While he did not want to deal with the visitors, he was happy to capitalize on his notoriety as the president’s brother. He launched his own beer company that same year, selling what he called Billy Beer. Initially the product generated a lot of publicity. This, unfortunately, did not translate into a steady stream of revenue for the venture. The beer business soon folded, but Carter continued to run the family farm and a gas station he owned.

Scandals

In 1978 and in 1979, Carter visited the country of Libya, working on an oil business deal. He received a $220,000 loan from the Libyan government. Some thought that he was abusing his position as the president’s brother and Billy’s actions became the subject of a Senate investigation. The timing of the investigation was incredibly damaging to Jimmy Carter’s re-election bid, even though he was never involved in his brother’s activities. And it had no legal consequences for Billy. He had to repaid the loan and register as an agent of the Libyan government. Still the whole incident had cast a dark cloud over Jimmy Carter’s campaign and may have contributed to his eventual defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980 election.

Not too long after one scandal quieted down, Carter was immersed in another. This time he had to grapple with the Internal Revenue Service. In 1981, he had to sell his gas station, the home that he and his family had lived in for years, and other property to pay off his tax bill. Carter had neglected to properly account for income from speaking engagements and other appearances.

After losing his home, Carter moved to Alabama to work for Tidwell Industries, a company that made mobile homes and worked on private planes. Then the entire Carter family suffered two tremendous losses in 1983. Their sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, died of pancreatic cancer in September and their mother, Lillian Carter, died of cancer six weeks later. In addition to his personal hardship, Billy ran into more legal hassles in 1985 as vice president of Scott Housing Systems. He pled guilty to charges related to an invoice padding scandal, according to The New York Times.

Death of Pancreatic Cancer

Behind of his good ol’ boy façade, Carter was actually very intelligent and well-read. He was disturbed by how of the press portrayed him as a redneck and a dimwit, but he also was committed to not conforming to the traditional image of a presidential sibling. Sober for years, Carter had put his hard-drinking ways to rest in 1979 after a stint in rehab. But this could not have prevented him from getting a disease that seems to have haunted the Carter family. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1987. After undergoing surgery and experimental treatments, Billy Carter succumbed to the disease on September 25, 1988, in Plains, Georgia.

Carter was survived by his wife, their four daughters and two sons, as well as several grandchildren. His sister, Gloria Spann, also died of pancreatic cancer in 1990.

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