Former Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal, of Gainesville, dies at 80
Gainesville native and former Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal died at her home in Demorest Tuesday, Aug. 23, surrounded by Gov. Nathan Deal and family.
Sandra Deal died at 80 from breast cancer that had spread to brain cancer, according to a press release from Brian Robinson, who served as the governor’s communications director.
“We have lost a wife, mother and grandmother who loved us unconditionally, as we did her,” the Deal family said in a statement. “She blessed us, taught us and enriched our lives.
“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.”
The family goes on to describe Deal as “a woman of unshakeable Christian faith” who “did not fear death because she had no doubts about her ultimate destination, and knew that we’d all come together again one day.”
The statement continues: “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.”
The family will announce Celebration of Life details soon.
“Not just the community but the state is mourning,” said Phil Wilheit Jr., a Hall County businessman very close to the Deal family. “She was loved from one end of this state to the other in her tenure as first lady.”
Sandra Deal “was one of the dearest, nicest people I’ve ever known,” he said. “She loved people and people loved her. She loved being around them. She was probably the most welcoming first lady this state has ever had.”
Wilheit said he told Nathan Deal after her death, “Heaven is a better place with Sandra there.”
The press release quotes Gov. Brian Kemp as saying that he, First Lady Marty Kemp and their daughters “are truly heartbroken” about her death.
“The proud daughter of teachers and a two-time graduate of what would become Georgia College and State University, she dedicated her professional life to the same career as her parents — educating the growing minds of Georgia,” the governor said.
“For generations to come, the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy, located on the campus of her alma mater, will continue her good work in bringing the gift of reading to Georgia’s children.
“As for her marriage to former Gov. Nathan Deal, both those who had the pleasure of knowing them personally and those that they just met were able to witness a relationship filled with unyielding affection and respect.
“As she will for so many Georgians, Mrs. Deal will remain steadfast in our hearts and memories, just as her family will be in our prayers during the time of mourning.”
Sandra Deal’s ordeal with breast cancer was announced in January 2018, while her husband was still in the governor’s office. A statement at the time said she had been diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer and had gone through surgery to remove a tumor discovered during her annual mammogram.
Chemotherapy treatments after the surgery were taken as “precautionary measure,” according to the statement. The treatment would last a few weeks “to ensure complete remission.”
“Since I caught it in its early stages, I am confident that the chemotherapy will yield successful results,” the first lady said at the time. “In light of this, I encourage all women to be proactive about their health and see a medical professional for an annual mammogram. Nathan and I appreciate your thoughts and prayers during this time, and I look forward to continuing to read to students across the state.”
Reading to students was an avid passion of the former first lady during Nathan Deal’s tenure of 2011-19.
In November 2018, during stops at schools in Hall County, Deal said she had visited all 159 Georgia counties and all 181 public school districts.
“My goal is to encourage students to enjoy reading so that they will be prepared for a lifetime of learning,” she said in a statement. “Reading is the gift that keeps on giving and education is essential for all children to succeed in their pursuits.”
Deal, who taught for 15 years in the Hall County School System, was honored in 2018 with the dedication of the Sandra Deal Secret Reading Garden at North Hall Middle School.
“I have been around Mrs. Deal all of my life,” said Morgan Conner, agriculture teacher at North Hall Middle, at the event. “It’s really cool to just be able to dedicate something to her that will be here as school goes on. Ten years from now, this garden will still be here.”
Nathan Deal was also at the event, saying he was there to support her.
The couple seemed inseparable in public, often seen together in events, such as one in 2019, when the pair was honored at a Northeast Georgia History Center fundraiser.
“Having lived life as long as I have, I’ve seen so many people go to the next part of their lives in heaven and know that you can’t take it with you,” Sandra Deal said at the event. “It’s what you invest in the lives of people that is left as your gift to the world.”
This article was originally posted by the Gainesville Times, a sister publication to Forsyth County News.