Carl Sanders was Georgia’s governor but also a huge contributor to Hall County’s early growth.
“It’s hard to compare governors because they all live at different times and through different problems and opportunities, but I think Carl Sanders would be on everybody’s list as one of the outstanding governors in Georgia history,” said Abit Massey, president emeritus of the Georgia Poultry Federation.
Sanders, who served as governor 1963-67, died Sunday in Atlanta. He was 89.
Massey, whose ties to state leaders date to before Sanders’ tenure at the state Capitol, said the former governor helped Hall County in several important ways, including establishing a University System of Georgia presence here, as well as Lanier Technical College.
What began as Gainesville Junior College is now University of North Georgia-Gainesville.
He also was instrumental in laying the groundwork for what would become Interstate 985 from Interstate 85 in Gwinnett County to Gainesville. The move was to help ease the loss of I-85 from Hall to its current route, which skirts Hall to the south.
Also, Sanders “was extremely supportive to us on poultry matters,” said Massey, who led the Gainesville-based poultry federation from 1960-2008.
“He assisted with some tax changes that improved the competitive position of the poultry industry, and he had a great legacy in education,” Massey said.
Gov. Nathan Deal, who ordered U.S. and Georgia flags on all state buildings and grounds be lowered to half-staff through sunset Wednesday, said he is “greatly saddened” by Sanders’ death.
“The bond we shared was more than the mutual possession of a public office,” he said. “Gov. Sanders was a mentor and friend whose bright example of compassionate leadership was unsurpassed.”
Sanders “transformed Georgia by building thousands of classrooms, improving our transportation system, increasing state income and bringing a competitive spirit to the state through the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves,” Deal said.
“But more than anything else, Gov. Sanders showed true leadership and character by supporting civil rights for all during a time when many were not.
“It is this legacy that I remember with a heavy heart today, and his lasting positive impact on our state will be felt by many future generations of Georgians. We will continue to pray for the Sanders family during this difficult time.”
Sanders, an Augusta native, “is best remembered as Georgia’s first New South governor, a Democrat who provided progressive leadership,” according to New Georgia Encyclopedia, an online publication supported by several state entities, including the governor’s office.
A World War II veteran, he was the nation’s youngest governor when elected in 1962.
In his term, Sanders pushed to improve education and reform and modernize state government, as well as end corruption that had plagued several areas of government in previous administrations.
He also sought a more moderate racial climate during the turbulent later years of the civil rights movement.
“Though he himself was a segregationist, he was realistic enough to recognize the futility in continued resistance to federal legislation and court rulings and to refrain from the inflammatory racist rhetoric of his predecessors,” according to the encyclopedia.
After his term, Sanders would go on to rebuff offers of national leadership positions and set up a law firm in Atlanta.
In 1970, he did seek a second term as governor but ended up losing to then-state Sen. and eventual President Jimmy Carter.
Sanders then dedicated himself to his law practice. His firm of Troutman and Sanders would grow to be an international firm with more than 500 attorneys.
“We’re very sad. We’re going to miss him very much,” said Bob Webb, the firm’s chairman. “He was a great man, a great leader. He was a great mentor and friend to very many of us.”
A memorial service for Sanders is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, 2715 Peachtree Road, Atlanta.