Obituary: Bert Lance / Friend and confidant to Jimmy Carter

June 3, 1931 - Aug. 15, 2013

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Bert Lance, a small-town Georgia banker who became pre-eminent adviser and tennis-playing confidant to Jimmy Carter, but was forced to resign after eight months as director of the Office of Management and Budget because of accusations that he had personally traded on his ties with the president, died Thursday in Georgia. He was 82.

His death was confirmed in a statement from Mr. Carter, who called him "one of the most competent and dedicated public servants I have ever known."

Mr. Lance died at home near Calhoun, Ga., Thursday evening, said the Gordon County deputy coroner, Heath Derryberry. The cause was not immediately known, Mr. Derryberry said, but Mr. Lance had been in failing health and was receiving hospice care.

Cleared of wrongdoing in 1980 after a highly publicized 12-week bank fraud trial in Atlanta, Mr. Lance resumed his business career in Georgia, insisting that he held no animosity toward the government officials and journalists who had pursued him.

Mr. Lance's brief Washington tenure, however, smirched the new administration, which took office in 1977 after campaigning as an antidote to the Watergate era marked by the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. His departure meant the loss of an important bridge to the business community and a voice counseling restraint of the populist tendencies elsewhere in the administration.

Later, Mr. Lance was indicted and subsequently cleared in the financial scandal involving the shuttered Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which he served as a consultant after selling his controlling interest in the National Bank of Georgia to an Arab business associate of the BCCI president.

Nor did he abandon political life. He became chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party in 1982 and chairman of the 1984 presidential campaign of Walter F. Mondale after Mr. Mondale was reportedly talked out of making him the vice-presidential nominee, turning instead to Geraldine Ferraro. In 1988, Mr. Lance served as a top adviser to his friend the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who sought the party's presidential nomination.

An affable 6-foot-5-inch bear of a man with heavy-lidded dark eyes, Mr. Lance, whom Mr. Carter said was like a brother to him, was once described as "a guy with the charm of an old song-and-dance man and the irrepressible guile of a safecracker."

At the budget office, Mr. Lance, the first person chosen by the president-elect for a Cabinet-level post, advocated a device called zero-based budgeting, the idea being that each budget item should be freshly justified each year rather than subjected only to financial adjustment. Although he succeeded in rolling back some spending proposals, this idea failed to catch on and a goal of budgetary balance by the end of the Carter presidency went unachieved.


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