Bert Lance, 82, was Carter budget chief
CALHOUN, Ga. - Bert Lance, 82, a Georgia banker and ally of former President Jimmy Carter who served as his first budget director before departing amid a high-profile investigation of his banking activities, died Thursday.
Mr. Lance died at home in northwest Georgia, Gordon County deputy coroner Heath Derryberry said. He said that Mr. Lance had struggled recently with unspecified health problems, though authorities were unsure of his cause of death.
In a statement, Carter said Mr. Lance was one of his closest personal friends and that he was a dependable source of advice on intricate state and national issues.
"Bert Lance was one of the most competent and dedicated public servants I have ever known," Carter said. "As head of the Department of Transportation in Georgia, he was acknowledged by all the other cabinet-level officials as their natural leader, and he quickly acquired the same status in Washington as our nation's director of the Office of Management and Budget."
Carter went on to say that Mr. Lance's "never failing sense of humor and ability to make thousands of friends were just two of the sterling qualities that made knowing Bert such a valuable part of our lives."
Mr. Lance, a bear of a man with thick black hair, a rubbery neck and a distinctive drawl, was a self-described "country banker" who had served as state highway commissioner from 1971 to 1973, when Carter was Georgia governor, and also headed the National Bank of Georgia.
He was widely associated with the phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Mr. Lance became a protege of Carter's, and unsuccessfully ran for Georgia governor himself in 1974, as Carter set his sights on the White House. Two years later, Mr. Lance was part of the circle of Georgians who followed Carter to Washington after his election as president.
Mr. Lance served as the Carter administration's first OMB director, where he advocated zero-based budgeting. But his career was derailed by what became known as "Lancegate." He was accused of misappropriating bank money to friends and relatives, leading to a wide-ranging investigation that became a major distraction for the new Democratic administration, especially after Carter had campaigned on moving past the scandal-tainted Watergate years.
Carter accepted Mr. Lance's resignation in September 1977, though they remained close friends.
Mr. Lance went on trial in 1980 for charges arising from a federal investigation, including conspiracy, misuse of bank funds, false statements to banks and false entries in bank records. He was acquitted of nine charges of bank fraud after a 16-week trial in Atlanta. A federal jury was unable to render verdicts on three other charges, and the case ended in a mistrial. The charges were later dismissed.