Sanders has always been a disciplined, self-motivated lawyer who consistently found a way to accomplish things out of the ordinary, managing many interests with efficiency and dispatch. A member of the Greatest Generation, he has historically underscored affiliation with the basics long considered keys to success in life. At school, there was total commitment to reading, writing and arithmetic; at home there was homework, chores, church and a spirit of giving and goodwill to others.
For fun, there were sports, where participation segued into opportunity. Carl and his brother, Bob, were particularly good at football, which led to scholarships to play collegiately at the University of Georgia. This meant free education. Nobody could have appreciated that remarkable perk in life more than Roberta Sanders’ boys.
Also, he subscribed to the Biblical notion that one should honor his father and mother. It was Sanders’ mother who raised him and Bob to accentuate family values and influenced them to develop a thirst for education with a compatibility with the work ethic.
Recently, I made a delivery of a publication that carried a story on the former governor’s brother to his office on a rainy, biting day that was inclement enough that the governor chose not to make the trip to the office — a rare development for him. I volunteered to deliver the package to his house in late morning.
After a few minutes in conversation about a variety of subjects, his lovely wife, Betty, an accomplished artist, joined us — and, suddenly, there was an invitation to join them for a bowl of oyster soup. It was like the good old days when you stopped by someone’s house at mealtime and were always invited to pull up a chair. Down-home hospitality in a home-folks atmosphere!
After a disappointing political defeat, losing the race for governor to Jimmy Carter in 1970, Sanders regrouped and built his law firm into international status, one which today employs more than 600 attorneys in North America and Asia. While he was elevating the status of his law firm, Betty was busy developing her interest in art. As first lady during Carl’s term in office as governor — 1963–67 — she encouraged her husband to form the state’s first Art Commission. You might say that Betty Sanders brought “official” culture to Georgia.
One of her best friends was Lamar Dodd, the highly regarded artist who was the head of the University of Georgia art department. With a successful and noted reputation, she chose to create an art center at Georgia Southern. Statesboro was her hometown and she wanted to do something for “that region in south Georgia.” As a Georgia graduate, she was disappointed that her alma mater never sought her out — until it was too late.
“I sat around for years waiting for someone to call on me, but they never did,” she said. “Carl had done a lot for the university as governor and has done a lot personally.”
Sanders made a seven-figure gift to the law school but did not make any fuss about naming opportunity. In fact, when former UGA President Michael Adams named several buildings on campus for former governors, he offered to do the same for Sanders — but Sanders declined.
One should not read any regret in all this. There are no ill feelings. Both Carl and Betty Sanders love and appreciate their alma mater. Carl will tell you flat out, had it not been for the football grant-in-aid that in all probability he would not have gotten a law degree in Athens.
“The University of Georgia,” he said, “made me what I am.”
The Sanderses live in a house that was built for golfing great Bobby Jones. In that house, plans were organized to form the Augusta National Golf Club. It was also where plans were made to create the Masters golf tournament.
With inquiring minds and love of the outdoors and the arts, the Sanderses remain in good spirits and are about good deeds and goodwill. They have been inviting friends to pull up a chair for a meal since their days on the Georgia campus.
Loran Smith is an administrative specialist for the University of Georgia sports communication department. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.