Sandra Deal was a dear friend. When the Daughters of the American Revolution presented their preservation medal at their Washington HQ, she flew up and pinned it on me.
You can see from the photo above that we had a sweet friendship, singing her praises from the Duluth Square podium and dismissing the governor as second in importance to her diplomatic skills. You see how amused he was too at me saying that. Good sport.
Our brilliant MLK sculptor Kathy Fincher is being honored in this Duluth event for her bittersweet 9/11 children’s memorial sculpture. Governor Deal was there to dedicate it and I knew Sandra was accompanying him, so I wore the DAR medal she pinned on me years prior, and was thanking her again for the honor.
She was a superb teacher through and through. When we had our Churchill painting exhibition on the 50th anniversary of his passing, she and the governor laid at wreath at our rostrum as had been done 5 hours earlier at Westminster Abby. The London event had three Churchill great grandchildren place the wreath. Churchill family member Duncan Sandys, married to a Macon girl was a big part of our exhibition and he was there for the wreath laying with his young son Julian. The sirens of the governors motorcade were loud but Duncan was detained in the museum by Senator Max Cleland, an unexpected visitor at that moment. Upon arrival, I explained all this to Sandra and Governor Deal that Max was there and that I had asked the child to fill in for his otherwise detained father, Max needing additional help. I showed them the powerful images of his little cousins laying the wreath at the abby, and that this American born Churchill must uphold his family tradition and duty on behalf of the United States of America!
“Yes Sir Mr. Cook!” said Julian. Sandra immediately crouched down to his level and told him how they would do this, Julian in the middle between the governor and her. He grinned at her nervously and pulled it off in a most excellent way, after-which she complimented him profusely, again crouching to his level. He was so proud.
On another occasion I attended her invitation to the Governor’s Mansion for an arts/cultural group. I was near the last to arrive and was in the back of a group of 10-12 people and she had not seen me enter.
As we processed through the large parlor to the library, she remarked on the 18th century fine and rare Oglethorpe engraving in that room, said to be his best likeness, saying “there is only one other that is known to exist and it is at the Millennium Gate Georgia History Museum in Midtown. You should go see it!”
Chuckles from her guests, knowing I was there, bemused her and they parted so she could see that I was there. I thanked her profusely for giving us such a great plug! She was having so much fun she asked if we wanted to go upstairs. Of course we said yes, and up we went. She showed us the suite President Carter used for cabinet interviews after his election to our nation’s highest office. She showed us through the other suites and sitting rooms until we landed in the governor’s private sitting room. And he was in there reading the paper, bemused, and she, unfazed, said something sweet to him. We toured and moved on to the next room. What a great lady! She will be missed.
- Rodney Mims Cook, Jr.
"We have lost a wife, mother and grandmother who loved us unconditionally, as we did her. She blessed us, taught us and enriched our lives," the Deal family said in a statement. "Our family knew this day was coming, and we are grateful that it gave us the opportunity to enjoy as much time with her as we could in her final months. We are grieving but celebrate her life and the example she set. A woman of unshakeable Christian faith, she did not fear death because she had no doubts about her ultimate destination and knew that we’d all come together again one day. Beyond our family, she touched thousands and thousands of lives as a teacher and as First Lady of Georgia, when she read to students in every county and every school district in the state. The public Sandra Deal matched the private Sandra Deal. She gave to others selflessly, unfailingly and unceasingly. We will miss her but count ourselves lucky that we were hers. She leaves a world that’s better because she was here."
A Georgia native, Deal grew up in a house full of educators, a calling she too would follow. After graduating from high school in Gainesville, she would attend Georgia College and State University, where she received a bachelor's degree in elementary education in 1963. Five years later, she would earn her master’s degree.
In between, she would marry her husband of 56 years, Nathan Deal.
Deal would teach language arts in Hall County for more than 15 years.
As first lady of the state of Georgia, Deal would continue to advocate for education and literacy. She would go on to visit more than 900 schools, reading to classes and promoting literacy. She would end up visiting schools in all of Georgia’s 159 counties and all 181 public school districts while her husband was in office.
She was co-chair of the Georgia Literacy Commission, playing a significant role in Read Across Georgia Month and has partnering with the Get Georgia Reading Campaign.
Deal was known for her compassion and ability to connect with Georgians. In 2016, she visited several Red Cross shelters, reaching out to those displaced by Hurricane Matthew.
That same year, Deal would be honored by the Georgia Association of Broadcasters as the 2016 "Georgian of the Year."
Deal published a book "Memories of the Mansion: The Story of Georgia’s Governor’s Mansion" in 2015 where she spoke with former Georgia first families to help weave the history of the governor’s mansion together.
In 2017, Georgia College & State University unveiled the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy in her honor.
Gov. Brian Kemp said he, First Lady Marty Kemp and their daughters "are truly heartbroken to learn of former First Lady Sandra Dunagan Deal’s passing."
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, who also served during Gov. Nathan Deal's term, says she brought a "rare level of beauty, grace, dignity, and warmth to the Governor's Office."
"She was a source and inspiration for the greatness of Governor Nathan Deal. She touched the lives of so many Georgians and made our state a better place. To know her was to love her and be loved by her," Speak Ralston wrote. "We will miss her smile and her way of lifting up all those around her. But we take comfort knowing she is in the peaceful presence of our Heavenly Father.
Services for Deal will be announced soon.
She is survived by her husband and four children: Jason, Mary Emily, Carrie, and Katie.