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New 1st lady wants to make an impact, improve the state

Former teacher feels education is very important

POSTED: December 23, 2010 12:09 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Incoming First Lady of Georgia Sandra Deal is a Hall County native who graduated from East Hall High School. She and her husband, Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, are moving to Atlanta into the Governor's Mansion.

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Sandra Deal is a woman who has always worked behind the scenes.

Her husband, Republican Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, has spent the last two decades as a politician.

And she has been with him for every step of the way, taking care of her family while he served as a state senator, a U.S. House representative and now preparing to take over as the governor of Georgia.

And for the first time, Sandra Deal will be in the spotlight herself.

As the first lady of Georgia, she will have the platform to be a public advocate for causes that are dear to her heart.

"I thought, all through these years, most of my life has been devoted to doing the things my children needed done, and my husband needed done and the parents needed done. Very little of my time was for things that I chose to do. I'm looking forward to being able to do things that I choose to do to help society," she said. "It's a wonderful opportunity, and I hope I'll be able to take full advantage of it to promote various issues that I'm concerned about."

She said she recently spoke with Mary Perdue, wife of Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, about the role of the first lady. Mary Perdue told her to take her time and think about how she wanted to use her time in the governor's mansion.

"There's just so many things that concern us all and I want to help," Sandra Deal said.

Though she hasn't decided exactly what she wants to do, there are a number of ways she hopes to improve the state as first lady.

"I have a great concern for the need for little children to get a good start. I know that so much learning takes place by the age of 3. Early education is extremely important, getting a good start for children and good nutrition, good training in those early years," she said.

"But on the other end of things, I looked after our parents, mine and Nathan's, and I know about elder care and how much good care and love and proper medicine and nutrition means."

A former teacher, Sandra Deal feels education is very important. It is very likely she will devote her time as first lady to education in Georgia.

Teaching came naturally for Sandra Deal, who grew up with parents who were educators. She taught full time for 15 years and spent many years as a substitute teacher.

"My mother and daddy just loved teaching and people loved them. Students would come by to visit them and talk to them about situations or problems or just to come by to visit because they loved them." she said.

"I thought, this is one of the greatest gifts you can have is to touch a life. And a teacher does that almost every day, and so I chose to be a teacher and change lives. And I think I did."

Sandra Deal hopes she will have the ability once again have a positive impact on students.

"I had prayed that I would know what I was supposed to do with my life because I had retired to look after the parents and I hadn't found the right thing that turned me on and seemed like the right thing I was supposed to really connect with, she said.

"And then Nathan decided to run for governor, and I knew I had a big job ahead of me to help with that. And it opened up this opportunity for me to be active and engaged in changing Georgia and I hope I can."

Kathy Lovett, Sandra Deal's long-time friend, said she is a great role model.

"She will be a very gracious first lady who makes efforts to try to motivate Georgians to be our best, to be a people who value education, who value work and who value service," Lovett said.

"There is nothing pretentious about Sandra. She's one of the most genuine, caring people I have ever known."

Harris Blackwood, a campaign advisor for Nathan Deal and who was recently appointed as the director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, spent many hours with Sandra Deal on the campaign trail.

Blackwood said she was a tireless campaigner who wasn't content until she had shaken every hand in a room.

"She's very outgoing and we didn't stop anywhere, not even a fast food restaurant, without speaking to everybody," Blackwood said. "She is a very gracious lady in that regard."

He said he realized just how energetic and friendly Sandra Deal is during the many hours they spent traveling the state together over the past year.

"She never meets a stranger," Blackwood said.

"Somedays it was fast and furious and we would hit four or five towns in a day. She's a little bit my senior and she wore me out."

Sandra Deal said the gubernatorial campaign was a great experience for her.

"Campaigning, that was just something I loved. I love people so I had such a good time going out and meeting new people and renewing old friendships," she said.

Though Nathan Deal's political career has taken him far away from home, Sandra Deal chose to stay in Hall County.

"I wanted my children to have stability and to have a fairly normal life with friends and family to give them support, and so we stayed here and he made the trip home every weekend," she said.

"In fact I think the staff counted up and in the almost 18 years he'd been in Washington he'd only stayed up there four weekends."

His term as governor will take the Deals to Atlanta
together to make a new home in the governors mansion.

"I think by being in Atlanta he'll be close and he can get to the office quicker and maybe I'll see a little more of him, which will be nice," she said.

"I'm a country girl and I really have not lived in the city ... I don't really have the experience of living in the city and I'm kind of looking forward to it."

Sandra and Nathan Deal have been married for 44 years. The couple met on a blind date while Sandra Deal was at Georgia College in Milledgeville - now Georgia College & State University.

"My college roommate invited me down for a weekend to go to the beach and when I got there, he was my substitute for a trip to the beach," she said. "When I met him, I knew that he had special qualities I admired. I thought, here's a man who can think for himself and who has a depth about him."

She grew up in Hall County and attended the New Holland school in the New Holland mill village before graduating from East Hall High School.

Sandra Deal said she still is still friends with her high school classmates.

"There were only 63 of us and we still get together about every two months because we enjoy each others' company," she said.

Blackwood said her continued friendships say a lot about her character.

"She has a strong love of family and a very tight-knit group of friends," Blackwood said. "To those she knows and those she's close to, she's very loyal."

 



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