Hugh Carter Jr., Who Pinched Pennies for a President, Dies at 80

Hugh Carter Jr., who helped run the presidential campaign of his cousin Jimmy Carter, then became an aide in charge of reining in the White House budget, earning the nickname “Cousin Cheap” among staff members, died on Sunday at his home in Tampa, Fla. He was 80.

A funeral notice in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution announced his death but did not give a cause.

President Carter’s grandson, Jason, said in a statement on the website of the Carter Center, the human rights organization founded by President Carter, that Hugh Carter “was crucial in my grandfather’s election as president by organizing the famous Peanut Brigade, and he skillfully implemented true zero-based budgeting within my grandfather’s White House.”

The Peanut Brigade was a group of Georgians who hit the campaign trail for Jimmy Carter, a former governor of Georgia (and the son of a peanut farmer) who lacked a national profile, helping give him the momentum that eventually led to the Democratic nomination. Hugh Carter, known as Sonny, recruited a number of those volunteers and often handled the logistics of getting them to crucial primary states to do grass-roots campaigning.

Hugh Carter said he admired his older cousin, who had been his Sunday school teacher and his Scout master.

“He used to take us camping and hiking,” Mr. Carter said in a 1977 interview with The New York Times. “I remember as a kid thinking some day he’d get into politics.”

“Of course, I never dreamed he’d be president of the United States,” Mr. Carter added.

Mr. Carter had taken a leave from his job as an executive at John H. Harland Company in Atlanta, which printed bank checks, to work on the campaign. In early 1977, when Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president, he asked Hugh to come work at the White House as a special assistant to the president.

The two “had the understanding that I was to be a normal staff person, that just because I was related to him, I’d be treated no differently,” Mr. Carter told The Times. “That’s the way he wanted it and I wanted it.”

He was not unqualified. In addition to his experience in the business world, he had a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech and a master’s in business administration from Wharton.

His main job was to cut the size of the White House staff and its expenditures. He ordered television sets removed from offices, drastically cut subscriptions to newspapers and magazines and curtailed the use of executive cars, among other things.

The idea, he maintained, wasn’t merely to save money, but to make the Carter White House less imperial.

“Working here at the White House, through too many comforts and too many nice things, the staff will forget what it’s like to be an average American with problems like getting to work in the morning,” he told The Times.

The job won him no points for popularity.

Stuart E. Eizenstat, the president’s chief domestic policy adviser, in his 2018 book “President Carter: The White House Years,” described Hugh Carter’s role as taking “a series of self-defeating actions in reducing the White House staff in size and influence, but without bothering to consult the staffers themselves.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser, is said to have complained about not having the services of an official car and instead having to find a taxi after a late night at the office, on streets that might not be particularly safe after dark.

According to “The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter,” Kai Bird’s 2021 book, it was Hugh Carter who persuaded the president to sell the Sequoia, the presidential yacht, a move widely criticized as showing a lack of appreciation for the need for the presidency to have some prestigious trappings.

As for that nickname, Mr. Carter brushed it off.

“‘Cousin Cheap’ is just a name,” he told The Boston Globe in 1977. “I don’t take it too seriously. Of course, I prefer to be called by my own name.”

Hugh Alton Carter Jr. was born on Sept. 29, 1942, in Americus, Ga., to Ruth and Hugh A. Carter Sr. His father, a worm farmer and antiques dealer, was a Georgia state senator. His grandfather was the brother of Earl Carter, Jimmy’s father.

As a boy, Hugh packed worms for bait on his father’s farm. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1964 and his master’s in 1968, and also served in the Army.

After his marriage to Joan Samuelson ended in divorce, he married Glenna Garrett in 1979. According to The Journal-Constitution, she survives him, along with three daughters, Mary Elise Rising, Kathleen Carter and Emily Gaston; two sisters, Laurie Tharpe and Connie Collins; and three grandchildren.

After President Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan, Hugh Carter ran a printing company in Atlanta, retiring in 2013.

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