In many cases, she’s actually initiated or guided a program, event or parkland development.
“She’s the grandmother of this recreation department, and I mean that in the best possible way,” said Morgan Rodgers, assistant director of Roswell’s recreation and parks division.
“She helped us put everything in place for us to succeed, and she’s followed up to get us to where we are today.”
With her track record in this area, as well as service as a city council member and on numerous boards and advisory boards throughout the community, it’s no wonder White was recently dubbed History Maker of the Year by the Roswell Convention and Visitors Bureau board.
“Since the 1950s, Sally White has been consistently, and continuously, involved in many aspects of our community, working to make it better,” said Dotty Etris, the CVB’s executive director.
“Often the service has been “behind the scenes;” sometimes it was through elected service, but mostly it has been on projects, improvements and causes that she believes will give Roswell residents, businesses and visitors enjoyment and will build a sense of place.”
When she heard her name called as the award recipient at the CVB’s annual dinner, it was one of the few times in her life White was momentarily at a loss for words.
“I have no idea what I said. I was absolutely dumfounded,” she said with a laugh.
A true steel magnolia, White is quick to point out that her late husband Don’s political career was the catalyst for her plunge into public service.
Without him, she says, she might have been content to live a quieter life as a mother and homemaker.
“He really set the tone for my life,” she says of her husband, who held municipal office in Roswell for 29 years.
“He had the vision to look ahead and see things that were going to be important, and he knew parks were going to be important for the city’s future, so we needed to get every scrap of parkland we could.”
When he died in 1995, many people, including then-mayor Pug Mabry, encouraged White to run to complete her husband’s unfinished term.
It took some time for her to get comfortable with the idea, but she was eventually convinced that no one else would know as much about what her spouse wanted to do and accomplish than her.
She was elected in March 1996 and wound up serving six years on council.
Without her presence there, it is questionable if the city would now have Leita Thompson Memorial Park.
When the all-female LeitaLift Foundation board began to consider donating 104 acres on Woodstock Road to a worthy recipient, it was White, a board member, who they preferred to deal with. With the support of other city officials, White secured the donation, valued at more than $20 million for Roswell.
Leita Thompson Memorial Park is now one of the largest parks in the city.
A founding member of the Roswell Recreation Association and its chair for many years, White has been an integral part of the Colors Festival of the Arts each year.
Through this fundraiser, the association has contributed almost $1 million to the recreation department to enhance programs and activities.
It was White’s idea to earmark some of the funds for the now highly successful Sprayground at Riverside Park, which opened in July 2009.
White also has been an active member of the Roswell Recreation Commission, which shapes programs, policies and budget for the city department.
Never one to hide her feelings or opinions, White freely concedes that unlike her husband, she always says whatever she is thinking at the time. “He always thought before he spoke. That was a major difference between us.”
“To be honest, she’s a breath of fresh air,” Rodgers said. “You always know where she stands. It’s a pleasure to work with her.”
Mayor Jere Wood agreed. “I appreciate her that much more because it’s much easier to work with someone who’s so out front. Have I ever crossed swords with her? Absolutely. Numerous times. I’ve won some and I’ve lost some. But it’s always a good thing to have different points of view because better decisions get made. And in the end, it’s always been in the best interests of the city.”