CALHOUN, Ga. -- Bert Lance, 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 on Thursday evening. He was 82.
Lance died at home in northwest Georgia, Gordon County deputy coroner Heath Derryberry said. He said Lance had struggled recently with unspecified health problems, though authorities were unsure of his cause of death.
In a statement, Carter said 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 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."
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.