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Editorial: Wishing Georgia's ‘first teacher’ well in recovery
Sandra Deal’s heartfelt advocacy for all Georgians continues in her cancer battle
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Georgia first lady Sandra Deal, speaks to the crowd Aug. 26. 2017, during the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids' 15-year anniversary celebration event in Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

Spouses of elected officials often don’t seek the spotlight they are thrown into, even when they fully support their husbands’ or wives’ careers. Most accept their role and make it their own with the skills and abilities they bring to the partnership. That certainly describes Georgia’s first lady, Sandra Deal.

As wife of a member of the state legislature and later U.S. Congress, Mrs. Deal was exposed to the political theaters of Atlanta and Washington and spent time on the stage and campaign trail. But when Nathan Deal was elected governor in 2010, it put her into a new position of her own that comes with fresh responsibilities and expectations. She has embraced her role and thrived in it with grace, dignity and heart.

Those strengths will serve her well in her new battle. Mrs. Deal recently was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer, and has undergone surgery to remove a tumor discovered during her annual mammogram. She is beginning chemotherapy treatments as a precautionary measure to ensure her full recovery, but said her prognosis is good.

Mrs. Deal used her diagnosis to urge all women to take the steps necessary to receive regular exams.

“Since I caught it in its early stages, I am confident that the chemotherapy will yield successful results. In light of this, I encourage all women to be proactive about their health and see a medical professional for an annual mammogram,” she said in the Monday announcement. 

“Nathan and I appreciate your thoughts and prayers during this time, and I look forward to continuing to read to students across the state.”

It is well in character for Mrs. Deal to use her own health challenge as a way to reach out to others. In her time as first lady, she has been an effective advocate for the issues near and dear to her. Chief among those has been literacy, a topic that hits close to home for a longtime Hall County elementary school teacher. 

Once a teacher always a teacher, and Mrs. Deal has been, in fact, as much first educator as first lady. Her “Read Across Georgia” initiative has been aimed at increasing the number of children achieving grade-level reading skills by the end of third grade. In the past seven years, she has visited every school district in every county in the state, including some 800 schools, to read to students and urge them to pursue a love of books as the gateway to a lifetime of learning.

She’s even done a bit of writing of her own. Last year, she collaborated with Jennifer Dickey and Catherine Lewis of Kennesaw State University on a book detailing the history of the Georgia governor’s mansion, “Memories of the Mansion: The Story of Georgia’s Governor’s Mansion.” 

She also has been involved in the Governor’s Office for Children & Families and serves as chairwoman of the Georgia Children’s Cabinet addressing challenges families face in education, child and health care and juvenile justice. She has served as an advocate for women’s empowerment, immunization awareness, parental engagement and volunteerism, among others.

She followed in the big shoes of so many memorable Georgia first ladies who made their own marks, including Betty Vandiver, who passed away just last month, Betty Foy Sanders, Rosalynn Carter, Marie Barnes, Mary Perdue and Shirley Miller. Each brought their own style and attention to issues to the role and set the stage for others to follow.

Sandra Deal has raised that bar higher for the next first lady who moves into the mansion next January. We wish her well in a speedy recovery, and thank her for all she has brought to her share of the spotlight.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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