Flags flew at half-staff and businesses on Main Street shut down Monday as the small town of Plains mourned its second-most famous citizen, Billy Carter, who died at age 51 after a yearlong fight with cancer.
The brother of former President Jimmy Carter died Sunday at home with family members gathered at his bedside.A simple graveside service was held Monday afternoon at Lebanon Cemetery in Plains, where other members of the Carter family are buried.
The usual Monday-morning traffic was absent on Main Street, where Billy Carter once ran a gas station near the train depot that was Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign headquarters.
"There aren't many people out on the streets this morning," City Clerk Pamela May said. "Some things are closed. The service station that he used to own is closed today."
Officers from the National Park Service were stationed in the rural south Georgia town of 700 "to help our police in case there's a big crowd or if they're needed for anything," she said.
With Carter when he died were his wife, Sybil; their six children; and his sister, Gloria Spann. The former president had visited several times Saturday, and had been in to check on his brother early Sunday, Billy Carter's daughter, Mandy, said.
"He was very courageous in his last year of life," the former president said of his brother, who gained fame as a wisecracking "good ol' boy" and symbol of the common man when Jimmy Carter was in the White House.
Townspeople streamed to the neighboring homes of the Carter brothers throughout the day Sunday, bringing food and sympathy.
"In Plains we are like a big family," said Maxine Reese, a longtime friend. "When something happens to one of us it happens to all of us."
Billy Carter was diagnosed as having inoperable cancer of the pancreas on Sept. 11, 1987. On May 23, he began an experimental treatment at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., with the drug interleukin-2.
"It's my last chance, the only one I have left, except prayer, and I'm trying that too," Billy Carter said.
A family statement said he "struggled courageously with his illness, never losing his sense of humor and always concerned more about those who loved him than about himself."
Another daughter of Billy Carter, Kim Fuller, said Sunday that her father "joked a little bit with us" Saturday as his condition worsened.
"I don't know if you know my dad or not _ he just joked about different things," she told The Atlanta Constitution. "Then he talked some last night until about 11:30 p.m."
Although Billy Carter's antics during his brother's presidency sometimes caused political embarrassment, he was an astute businessman who built the family peanut business into a $5 million enterprise while his brother was campaigning.
He became involved with the Libyan government in a $250,000 scandal at a time when dissidents in the Democratic Party were trying to prevent the president from winning renomination.
He accepted an invitation to Tripoli as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's guest and later served as host to a visiting Libyan delegation in Atlanta and criticized Mayor Maynard Jackson for snubbing the Arabs.
Billy's celebrity status as a beer-drinking country philosopher peaked early in his brother's term. He found himself in demand as a speaker at state fairs, dedications and on radio and TV talk shows.
He promoted his own brand of beer, "Billy," but the brew never caught on commercially.
Less than two years after joining the lecture circuit, his popularity waned, and he admitted he was an alcoholic. He entered the Long Beach (Calif.) Naval Medical Center's treatment facility for alcohol abuse.