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The Honorable Faye Sanders Martin – 1934-2023
A pioneer for women in Georgia, a Bulloch County icon passes
Faye Martin
A native of Stilson, the late Judge Faye Sanders Martin is shown at a ceremony dedicating a historical marker in the community in September 2014. - photo by Statesboro Herald file photo

A pioneer for law in Georgia and a beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Faye Sanders Martin died Saturday at the Ogeechee Area Hospice inpatient facility. She was 89.

Admitted to the Georgia Bar Association at 22, Martin was the first woman attorney in Bulloch County. She went on to become the first woman appointed to the Georgia Superior Court bench, the first woman chief Superior Court judge in Georgia and the first mother to swear in her daughter as an attorney in Georgia.

“There won't be another like her," said Susan Cox, a Statesboro attorney who regarded Sanders as a mentor and supported her throughout her legal career. "Times have changed and young women don't face the obstacles she faced in obtaining her education and pursuing a legal career. She was a trailblazer, a pioneer, someone who broke the glass ceiling — whatever term you want to use for someone who overcame great odds to be first at something."

The funeral service was held Monday at Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church with Elder Randy Waters officiating. The family received visitors in the church fellowship hall following.

A graveside service and burial were held in Eastside Cemetery in Statesboro. 

"Judge Martin was one of the most practical, down-to-earth, and plain-spoken judges I have ever known," said Lovett Bennett, a Superior Court judge with the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit. "She had an uncanny ability to cut through to the core of a legal issue.

"Ecclesiastes tells us that 'A wise judge will instruct his people.' If you ever appeared in front of Judge Martin, you were certain to receive wise instruction. Judge Martin will be sorely missed by all who knew her."

Born in Stilson on Feb. 6, 1934, Martin loved her native community. Upon receiving an award from the Archibald Bulloch Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2011, Martin said: "This is the most wonderful, beautiful county in the state of Georgia, and it's meant so much to me throughout my lifetime."

Martin attended what was then Georgia Teachers College, graduating in 1955. She went on to earn her law degree and later an Honorary Juris Doctorate from Woodrow Wilson College of Law in Atlanta. After graduation, she created and endowed both the Judge Faye Sanders Martin Fund for the Office of Pre-Law Advisement and the Judge Faye Sanders Martin Honors Program Scholarship for Georgia Southern University students.

"She told me how hard it was for her to be in law school in Atlanta, far from home, one of the few women in her class, dealing with hostile male classmates and professors," Cox said. "But she was determined to obtain that degree and become a lawyer, and despite the obstacles, she graduated and passed the bar exam."

Martin had been working as an attorney for 

22 years when, in 1978, a new Superior Court judgeship was created for the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, which included Bulloch, Effingham, Jenkins and Screven counties. The new judge would be appointed by Gov. George Busbee and would face re-election every four years.

Martin said her friend and classmate B. Avant Edenfield encouraged her to put her name in for the appointment.

"I said, 'There's never been a woman appointed to a judgeship in Georgia before,'" Martin said. "And he said, 'Come on now, you're smarter than I am. Put your name in there.'"

Busbee did give Martin the appointment, which made her the state's first woman Superior Court judge. She won re-election to the judgeship every cycle, until taking senior judge status in 2000. At that time, she was the longest serving judge on the Superior Court bench and earned another Georgia first for women when she was named chief Superior Court judge.

"When I finished law school in 1978, there was still a lot of resistance to women in the legal field," Cox said. "My classmates were astonished that I would return to Statesboro. They didn't understand that Faye had blazed the trail, making it much easier for me to be accepted as a female lawyer in Statesboro than in larger towns like Savannah.

"Faye also reassured me that you can be a working mother in a career with long hours and raise happy, well-adjusted children.  She led by example and was always supportive of the women who appeared in her courtroom and the demands of being working mothers."

Faye Martin
In this Statesboro Herald photo from January 2014, after being sworn in as Statesboro's first woman mayor, Jan Moore, right, is congratulated by Faye Sanders Martin, the first woman appointed to the Georgia Superior Court bench. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

Also, Gov. Brian Kemp issued a commendation for Martin's service to the citizens of Georgia with honor and distinction and recognized her for the timely disposition of cases in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit.

And Bennett was always impressed by how "grounded" Martin remained.

"She made common-sense decisions that generally brought a quick end to expensive litigation," he said. "Although Judge Martin lived through the modernization of our community, she never lost touch with her rural roots."

When a historical marker was dedicated in the Stilson community in 2014, Martin said at the ceremony, "The community of Stilson — and its school and its people — have had a positive influence in my life. And as I think about those people, many names come to mind."

She recited surnames familiar throughout Bulloch County: Akins, Beasley, Brannen, Burnsed, Davis, Driggers, Edenfield, McElveen, Upchurch and Woodard.

"They made great contributions to this area and to the morals of its people," Martin said. "They are the salt of this community — my community."

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