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First ladies of Georgia to attend luncheon
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Being the first lady of any state is an interesting job.

Sometimes you entertain famous people from all walks of life. Other times, someone wants to tell your husband something and tries to get you to relay the message. Still other times somebody comes up to you who is an absolute nut and you have to smile and be pleasant.

A downside of being first lady is you live in public housing, albeit very nice public housing. If it is Tuesday and you want to go down to the kitchen and enjoy a little coffee in your robe and slippers, you might meet a gaggle of garden club gals on the public tour.

This week, the Northeast Georgia History Center is hosting a luncheon with five of Georgia’s first ladies, including the current one, at the First Baptist Church banquet hall. It sounds like a great event.

I don’t know if anyone is going to reveal any dark secret pillow talk, but you might hear something about one of our governors that would be rather interesting.

The group includes Betty Russell Vandiver, whose late husband, Ernest, was governor during the integration of the University of Georgia. She comes from one of Georgia’s most famous political families. Her uncle, Richard B. Russell, was a former governor and served for nearly 40 years in the U.S. Senate.

Also scheduled to attend is Betty Foy Sanders, wife of Gov. Carl Sanders. Mrs. Sanders was instrumental in the site selection and design of the current governor’s mansion, but she never got to live there as it was completed after her husband’s term.

In our state Capitol building, only two first ladies are in their husbands’ official portrait. Mary Perdue is standing next to her husband, Sonny. Virginia Maddox has a more subtle role in her husband’s portrait. A black-and-white photo of Mrs. Maddox sits behind her husband on a credenza. Also on the credenza is a fish wrapped in a copy of The Atlanta Constitution. Gov. Lester Maddox called the newspaper “the fish wrapper” and often suggested that was all it was good for.

I have known several of the first ladies and found them charming, even when their husbands were occasionally not.

I know the current first lady better than any of the others and spent a lot of time with her during my extended stay four years ago at Camp Nathan Deal.

Sandra Deal and I traveled across the state campaigning for her husband. Between stops, we ventured down some long roads. Along the way, we acquired a CD of gospel songs such as “I’ll Fly Away” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” We played it often and sang along with her on alto and me on tenor. Somehow in the privacy of the car, we just cut loose and sang. While we thought we sounded pretty good, no talent scouts have been beating down our doors  with a recording contract.

Our state has been blessed with wonderful first ladies who have been gracious hosts and served our state well. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to come and hear what they have to say.

A limited number of tickets are available by calling the History Center at 770-297-5900.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on


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