Bert Lance dies at 82

In this photo from 1976, President Carter, left, listens as Bert Lance, his choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, addresses a news conference in Plains, Ga. Lance, a banker and close ally of Carter, has died at the age of 82. (Charles Harrity / Associated Press / December 4, 1976)

Bert Lance

Budget director under President Carter

Bert Lance, 82, a Georgia banker and ally of former President Carter who served as his first budget director before departing amid a high-profile investigation of his banking activities, died Thursday at his home in northwest Georgia, Gordon County deputy coroner Heath Derryberry said. Lance had struggled recently with unspecified health problems, though authorities were unsure of his cause of death.

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."

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, Lance was part of the circle of Georgians who followed Carter to Washington after his election as president.

Lance served as the Carter administration's first director of the Office of Management and Budget, 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 corruption of the Watergate years.

Carter accepted Lance's resignation in September, 1977, though they remained close friends.

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. A federal jury was unable to render verdicts on three other charges and the case ended in a mistrial. The charges were later dismissed.

Lance stepped back into politics, serving as chairman of Georgia's Democratic Party in the early 1980s and as an advisor to Democratic candidates.

Thomas Bertram Lance was born June 3, 1931, in Gainesville, Ga. He attended Emory University and the University of Georgia, but dropped out of college just before graduation to support his wife and son as a bank teller.

Rosalia Mera

Spain's wealthiest woman began as seamstress

Rosalia Mera, 69, Spain's wealthiest woman, who began work as an assistant seamstress as a child and went on to co-found one of the world's largest retailers, died Thursday.

Her death was announced by Inditex SA, the Spanish company that she launched with then-husband Amancio Ortega in the 1970s. Spanish media reported that she suffered a brain hemorrhage while vacationing on the Spanish island of Menorca in the Mediterranean, and was flown to a hospital in her hometown of La Coruña, where she died.

With a 5.1% interest in Inditex, which makes clothes under Zara and seven other brands, Mera was Spain's richest woman, with a net worth of $6.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine. It listed her as the world's "wealthiest self-made woman," and the world's 195th richest person overall.

Mera was born in 1944 in a working-class neighborhood of La Coruña, a city in Spain's relatively poor industrial northwestern region of Galicia. She went to work in a local clothing shop at 11, where she met Ortega. The two married when they were barely 20 and went on to open their own shop, Zara, in La Coruña in 1975.

The holding company they managed together, Inditex, went on to open stores throughout Spain and Portugal and then expanded throughout the world in the 1990s. It operates more than 6,000 stories in 86 countries. With its flagship brand Zara, the company pioneered the concept of "fast fashion," in which high-end fashion is distributed to a network of stores quickly, at affordable middle-class prices.

The couple separated after 21 years and divorced a decade later. They had two children, including a disabled son. Ortega retains control of Inditex and is currently listed as the world's fourth-richest person by Forbes.

Mera had since devoted herself to charity and created the Paideia Foundation, dedicated to helping disabled people integrate into work and social situations.