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Law firm: Former Georgia Gov. Carl Sanders dies
His wife, a Bulloch County native, provided art collection at Georgia Southern
Obit Carl Sanders Werm
In this Sept. 19, 1970, file photo, former Georgia Gov. Carl Sanders shakes hands with members of the crowd at a campaign event leading up to a runoff against Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination for Governor in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

ATLANTA — Former Georgia Gov. Carl Sanders, one of the first "New South" governors elected during the civil rights movement and known for his work on education and in the state's legal community, died Sunday.

Sanders developed respiratory issues after falling at his home on Friday night, according to executives of the Atlanta law firm he founded after leaving office. He was 89 and continued to be a visible presence at the firm since assuming the title of chairman emeritus in recent years.

Sanders, a Democrat, took quiet steps to eliminate segregation in state facilities during his time in office — ordering the removal of signs designating water fountains and bathrooms by race at the state Capitol at the prompting of Georgia's first elected black state senator, Leroy Johnson. In a video interview for a Senate oral history project, Sanders said he was focused on following court orders against segregation but believes the changes positioned Atlanta to become the South's dominant city.

"While I was doing that, George Wallace was over in Alabama standing in the schoolhouse door ...," Sanders said. "By doing what I did and keeping it in a fashion where we didn't have blood in the streets, Atlanta, Georgia, took leadership of the South."

As the state's 74th governor from 1963 to 1967, Sanders shaped Georgia's education system, overseeing the creation of minimum standards for public schools, the addition of 10,000 teachers and development of an honors program for high-performing students.

He married Betty Bird Foy, a talented art student from Statesboro. They settled in Augusta where their two children, Betty Foy and Carl Edward Jr., were born.

Betty Foy Sanders, as she was known after marrying Carl Sanders Sr., is the namesake of Georgia Southern University's Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art. While her husband was shaping education as governor and founding the Georgia Council for the Arts, she encouraged the construction of buildings dedicated to art at several colleges and universities. The one at Georgia Southern was named the Foy Fine Arts Building in honor of her father, J.P. Foy, according to previous Statesboro Herald reports.

After extensive remodeling, the Foy Building in 2009 became headquarters of the GSU College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and the Music Department. But when the university's new Center for Art and Theatre opened in 2008, it included a gallery for the permanent display of the Betty Foy Sanders Georgia Artists Collection, the Herald reported.

She, and sometimes her friends and family when the works are Sanders' own, have been building the collection since 1967. It now contains more than 50 works, among them 17 paintings by Sanders herself.

Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday signed an executive order calling for flags on all sate buildings to be lowered to half-staff in Carl Sanders' honor.

"Sandra and I are greatly saddened by the passing of Gov. Carl Sanders," Deal said in a statement. "The bond we shared was more than the mutual possession of a public office; Gov. Sanders was a mentor and friend whose bright example of compassionate leadership was unsurpassed."

Sanders played a key role in bringing professional sports to Atlanta, working with then-Mayor Ivan Allen. His term also saw the establishment of community colleges throughout the state and expansion of the University of Georgia School of Law. After leaving office, Sanders cemented his place in the state's legal community by founding Troutman Sanders law firm in Atlanta. The firm grew to more than 600 attorneys with offices throughout the U.S. and in Asia under his leadership.

"He was a great friend, a great leader," Robert W. Webb Jr., the chairman of the firm, said. "He had great instincts and insights."

Sanders sought political office once more after serving as governor, losing a tough primary to Jimmy Carter, who would later be elected president. Carter said in a statement that he was proud of Sanders' time as governor and pursued many of Sanders' policies during his own time leading the state.

"Carl Sanders was an outstanding governor of Georgia, a champion of education, and a courageous proponent of ending racial segregation in our state," Carter said.

An Augusta native, Sanders attended UGA on a football scholarship until enlisting in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He is survived by his wife, Betty, their two children and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Saturday at Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, 2715 Peachtree Road NE in Atlanta. The family has asked that donations in memory of Sanders be made to either the YMCA of Metro Atlanta or the UGA Law School.



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