Remembering Former First Lady of Georgia Sandra Deal

Sandra Deal believed every living thing on the planet has the capacity to do remarkable things if placed in fertile soil. That’s why she and her husband, former governor Nathan Deal, wanted our schools to be top-notch. Gov. and Mrs. Deal were determined to resolve the unspeakable rate of illiteracy in Georgia and to close the literacy gap. Their goal was for every Georgian to have the literacy skills necessary to provide for themselves and their families.

Mrs. Deal invoked her roles as a daughter of educators, mother, grandmother, teacher, wife, and first lady of Georgia from 2011 – 2019 to guide her mission to promote childhood education and the Get Georgia Reading Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. A fierce champion for Georgia’s children, it was unthinkable for Mrs. Deal that the breast cancer diagnosis she received would interfere with her mission.

And yet, in the midst of these battles, Mrs. Deal exhibited uncommon grace and genuine kindness to everyone, coupled with her enduring smile and compassion for all children and families. Her call to action for parents, older siblings, and caregivers was a simple one—engage in everyday activities like reading stories to young children. And just talk to them.

Mrs. Deal didn’t simply put out the call. She modeled the behavior. Gov. Deal recalled a time in their own life when Mrs. Deal advocated for literacy in their own home.

“I hope to encourage children to want to learn to read for themselves,” said Mrs. Deal. “Knowledge is power, and we want to give them the confidence to acquire that power.”

We’re saddened that we’ve lost an extraordinary champion for Georgia’s children. At the same time, we find joy in the legacy she’s left behind for our children, families, and teachers, including the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy—and a tangible gift for all our youngest readers.

Every public elementary school library and public library in the state will receive a copy of Forever Loblolly, a truly homegrown children’s book she worked on with Georgia authors Carmen Agra Deedy and John McCutcheon, and Georgia illustrator Tom Gonzalez.

“I’m heartbroken, because I’ve lost such a dear friend, and we’ve all lost a tireless advocate of children’s literacy,” said Deedy. “Mrs. Deal and I shared the common belief that literate children can become anything, even if attending college is not practicable. Today the world of books, the internet, wherever there is text and information—is a feast for the curious mind. But first, a child must learn to read. Reading should not be a privilege, but a birthright. Our hope, as we worked together, was that young readers in our state would be, like our Georgia pines, both resilient—plentiful.”

Gov. Deal often told the story about the man who planted a tree even though he would never live to eat its fruit, nor live to find relief from its shade. He planted it for all those who would follow. The seeds the governor and Mrs. Deal planted are just beginning to sprout. Mrs. Deal, you can count on us at Georgia Family Connection and Get Georgia Reading to renew our commitment to young readers for years to come.

Mrs. Deal’s servant heart lives on. Every Georgian can still listen to her love for our children and literacy as she reads Forever Loblolly with Carmen Deedy and John McCutcheon.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Gov. Deal; and their children Jason, Mary Emily, Carrie, and Katie; and six grandchildren.

GaFCP Executive Director Gaye Smith
Get Georgia Reading Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Director Arianne Weldon