William Alton Carter (March 29, 1937– September 25, 1988) was an American farmer, businessman, brewer, and politician, and the younger brother of U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Carter promoted Billy Beer and was a candidate for mayor of Plains, Georgia.
Carter was born in Plains, Georgia, to James Earl Carter Sr. and Lillian Gordy Carter. He was named after his paternal grandfather and great-grandfather, William Carter, Sr. and William Archibald Carter, Jr. respectively. He attended Emory University in Atlanta but did not complete a degree. He served four years in the United States Marine Corps, then returned to Plains to work with his brother in the family business of growing peanuts. In 1955, at the age of 18, he married Sybil Spires (b. 1939), also of Plains. They were the parents of six children: Kim, Jana, William “Buddy” Carter IV, Marle, Mandy, and Earl, who was 12 years old when his father died.
1970s and later
In 1972, Billy Carter purchased a gas and service station in Plains. He owned and operated it for most of the decade.
Carter ran for mayor of Plains in 1976, but lost the election by a few votes. It was his only attempt to win elective office.
In the 1970s Billy Carter was the official spokesperson for Peanut Lolita liqueur while his brother, Jimmy Carter held presidential office.
In 1977, he endorsed Billy Beer, introduced by the Falls City Brewing Company, who wished to capitalize upon his colorful image as a beer-drinking Southern good ol’ boy that developed in the press when his brother ran for President. Carter’s name was occasionally used as a gag answer for a Washington, D.C., trouble-maker on 1970s episodes of Match Game. He was known for his outlandish public behavior; he once urinated on an airport runway in full view of the press and dignitaries.
Relationship with Libya
In late 1978 and early 1979, Billy Carter visited Libya three times with a contingent from Georgia. He eventually registered as a foreign agent of the Libyan government and received a $220,000 loan. (Edwin P. Wilson claimed he had seen a telegram showing that Libya paid Billy Carter $2 million.) This led to a Senate hearing on alleged influence peddling which the press named Billygate. A Senate sub-committee was called To Investigate Activities of Individuals Representing Interests of Foreign Governments (Billy Carter—Libya Investigation). On August 4, 1980, President Jimmy Carter wrote: “I am deeply concerned that Billy has received funds from Libya and that he may be under obligation to Libya. These facts will govern my relationship with Billy as long as I am president. Billy has had no influence on U.S. policy or actions concerning Libya in the past, and he will have no influence in the future.”
Carter was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the fall of 1987 and received unsuccessful treatments for the disease. He died in Plains the following year at the age of 51. His death came just five years after the death of his sister Ruth Stapleton, who also died of pancreatic cancer when she was in her 50s.
In 1999, Carter’s son William “Buddy” Carter IV published a biography of his father titled Billy Carter: A Journey Through the Shadows (ISBN 1-56352-553-4).