Georgia’s ‘Paintingest’ First Lady in a class of her own

Published 7:12 pm Friday, August 19, 2016

Class, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. In my long years on this planet, I never met a man with more class than the late Gov. Carl Sanders. He was and remains my political hero. As has been stated many times by me and others who grew up during the period, it was through the leadership of Gov. Sanders that Georgia was spared much of the racial strife that engulfed our neighboring states in the late ‘60s.

He didn’t stand in the schoolhouse door and proclaim, “No, not one.” He didn’t close our public schools. It was not necessary for the federal government to bring in the National Guard to restore order. He was the right man at the right time who did things the right way.

Some of my fondest memories are of sitting with Gov. Sanders in his offices at Troutman Sanders and listening to him reminisce about Georgia politics in the days before social media and 24/7 news coverage. It was like hearing about the Wild West, a frat party and standup comedy all rolled into one. The only problem was that after having me roaring with laughter, the governor would say firmly, “Now, remember, you can’t print that.” Dang. And they were such good stories, too.

Email newsletter signup

I was privileged a couple of weeks ago to be invited to the 90th birthday party of former first lady Betty Sanders, a class act in her own right. Ms. Sanders and I share a few things in common: Our admiration of her husband, our passion for creating art and my column. (She loves to read it and I love to write it.)

The fete was notable for several reasons. In addition to honoring one of Georgia’s great ladies, it was the coming-out party for the Woman Who Shares My Name. After eight long months of recuperating from not one, but two broken legs, she was ready to party down. That’s her story. I suspect she came along to see how somebody like me was actually invited to such a gathering of the rich and famous, of which I am neither. And if I made it inside, she assumed that I might create a scene if a waiter offered me a broccoli canape on a toothpick. I get no respect.

The respect was all for Betty Sanders and fittingly so. Who else could draw a crowd of such distinguished guests on a sweltering summer evening in August? Gov. Deal was there. So was former Gov. Roy Barnes. Former Congressman Buddy Darden. Vince Dooley. Lawyers. Judges. CEOs. Legislators. A sprinkling of lizard-loafered lobbyists. Friends from Statesboro — Ms. Sanders’ hometown — and Augusta — Gov. Sanders’ home. And me. I was so puffed up to be rubbing elbows with that crowd that I might even have accepted a broccoli canape on a toothpick had one been offered. I wouldn’t have eaten it but I wouldn’t have created a scene, either. It was that kind of night.

Ms. Sanders referred to herself in a recent newspaper article as “the paintingest first lady Georgia has ever seen.” She has long been one of our state’s finest artists. Her creativity seems to know no bounds. Her repertoire ranges from portraits to landscapes to still life to paintings accented with rocks and minerals such as amethyst, shell and quartz. The Sanders home in Atlanta is a virtual art gallery.

A graduate of the University of Georgia’s School of Art, Betty Sanders studied under the legendary Lamar Dodd. She is not only a prolific artist, she is a devoted promoter of art. It was through the sale and exhibition of her own art that the signature fountain in front of the governor’s mansion was funded and built. With her encouragement, Gov. Sanders established the Georgia Council for the Arts. Over the years, she has donated her artwork to schools and museums across the state. Ms. Sanders has been particularly active at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro where the university has named its fine arts department for her.

Most of all, she has inspired rank amateurs like me to seek and find the joy and satisfaction that comes from creating a painting, although to compare her work with mine is to compare fine china to paper plates.

Betty Foy Sanders is a great lady who was married for 67 years to a great man. Both have made Georgia better by their being here. I’m glad she let me come to her birthday party.