“I’m a real Southern boy. I got a red neck, white socks, and Blue Ribbon beer”
My mother went into the Peace Corps when she was sixty-eight. My one sister is a motorcycle freak, my other sister is a Holy Roller evangelist, and my brother is running for President. I’m the only sane one in the family”
Among Presidential relatives, no one stands out as more colorful or more controversial than Billy Carter, brother of 39th president Jimmy Carter, from Plains, Georgia.
Billy Carter was born on March 29, 1937, thirteen years after his future President brother. It was said that Carter’s father, Earl, was as easy on Billy as he was tough on Jimmy, and, as such, Billy was close to Earl and often seen in his company. Billy was 16 years old when “Mr. Earl” died, and he was devastated.
The death of Earl brought eldest brother Jimmy back from the Navy to run the family peanut warehouse that everyone, including Billy, assumed would be taken over by Billy. Billy was “mad as hell” at both his brother and the turn of events.
Billy married his 16-year-old sweetheart and joined the Marine Corps at age 17. After a four-year stint, he eventually returned home to Plains. Brother Jimmy, finding himself more involved in politics, relinquished daily operations of the warehouse to Billy. According to the PBS television show American Experience, it was Billy who ran Carter’s warehouse, and he did it well. “I have made more money for the business than Jimmy ever did,” Billy boasted, by all accounts demonstrating a sharp mind, strong work ethic, and natural ability to get along with people.
As Jimmy became Georgia’s governor and eventually Democratic candidate for President, the press found a gold mine in the persona of Billy Carter, who could almost always be counted on for a quote, often about one of his favorite subjects, beer. “Paintings are like a beer, only beer tastes good and it’s hard to stop drinking beer.” Or, “Yes sir, I’m a real Southern boy. I got a red neck, white socks, and Blue Ribbon beer.”
In 1976 Jimmy Carter ran for President and won. Billy Carter ran for mayor of Plains and lost. Billy continued to hold court at his Plains gas station, an important part of the social scene in a town that small.
One year later, Billy Carter, part businessman, part philosopher, part good ol’ boy, got into the beer business, lending his name to a brand called Billy Beer. With appearances around the country, Billy became the toast of the talk-show circuit. Billy, who was said to drink as many as 30 beers a day, found himself having to live up to his reputation.
It wasn’t too long before things turned murky for Billy; he became associated with Libyan interests after a trip with Georgia legislators. A suspect loan for $220,000 and some not-too-well-thought-out comments by Billy served as fuel for President Carter’s detractors and produced a Presidential scandal that became known as Billygate. The simple explanation that Billy (a gas station owner) and the Libyans (an oil-producing state) were in the same business did not fly among those who felt Billy’s cross-cultural relationship was about influence peddling.
Billy Carter died of pancreatic cancer in 1988. The same disease felled both his sisters and his mother.