Sandra Deal, the former first lady of Georgia and wife to 82nd Gov. Nathan Deal, died Tuesday at 80 of breast cancer that metastasized into brain cancer.
"We have lost a wife, mother and grandmother who loved us unconditionally, as we did her. She blessed us, taught us and enriched our lives," her family said in a statement. "We are grieving but celebrate her life and the example she set."
Sandra was born in Gainseville in 1942, where she grew up on a farm with two teachers for parents, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. After attending Georgia College & State University and earning bachelor's and master's degrees in elementary education, she went on to teach language arts in Hall County.
As first lady, she continued to advocate for education and visited more than 900 classrooms in each of Georgia's 159 counties and 181 public school districts, where she read to students and promoted literacy, Fox 5 Atlanta reported.
In 2017, the Georgia General Assembly opened the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy on her alma mater's campus, which "promotes core actions essential to supporting universal literacy throughout Georgia, propelling every child to read proficiently and beyond," according to the Center's website.
"Georgia College & State University is honored to carry on her legacy by serving future generations of Georgians with the same servant’s heart that Mrs. Deal so eloquently modeled for GCSU faculty, staff, students, and alumni," GCSU President Cathy Cox said in a statement Tuesday.
Following announcement of Sandra's passing, government officials expressed their sympathies and shared memories of her.
"Her generosity of spirit ensured not only that she was beloved by her students, but also an influential force in their lives, leaving an imprint not just on their minds but also on their hearts," Gov.Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp said in a statement Wednesday.
Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston wrote on Twitter that Sandra "brought a rare level of beauty, grace, dignity and warmth to the Governor's office."
"She could turn a stranger into a friend by the end of a conversation," Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr wrote on Twitter. "When it came to Georgia's students, Mrs. Deal had an uncanny ability to connect with them in a way that only our favorite teachers can do."
The Deals had been married for 56 years. Sandra's husband is a Mercer University alumnus, a distinguished university professor and spoke at Founders' Day in February 2022.
Sandra is survived by her husband and her children Jason, Mary Emily, Carrie and Katie, as well as six grandchildren.
Mary Helene Hall ‘23 is a journalism and women’s and gender studies student who has worked for The Cluster throughout her time at Mercer. She has held internships at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AL.com, where she covered a variety of topics including politics, crime and culture.