Giant in state politics for 40 years succumbs to cancer.
By ROB CHRISTENSEN, Staff Writer
DURHAM -- Terry Sanford, a former governor, senator and Duke University president, and one of the towering figures in North Carolina over the past 40 years, died Saturday after a long illness.
Sanford, who was 80, died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Durham from an illness related to the inoperable cancer of the esophagus that he had been battling since it was diagnosed late last year. He died at 11:30 a.m. with his wife and children at his side. Services are being planned for next week.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Margaret Rose; his son, Terry Sanford Jr.; his daughter-in law, Laurie Sanford of Durham; his daughter, Betsee Sanford of Hillsborough; his sisters, Mary Glenn Rose of Wyndover, Pa., and Helen Wilhelm of Berne, Switzerland; and two grandchildren.
Gov. Jim Hunt remembered Sanford as one of North Carolina's great leaders who had spent much of his life trying to improve education. "Terry's spirit of boundless optimism and commitment to excellence for our children and our public schools have changed us forever,'' Hunt said.
President Clinton praised Sanford as an architect of the New South. "His long and distinguished career of public service as governor, president of Duke University and U.S. senator helped build the New South and served as an inspiration to me and an entire generation of Americans," Clinton said. "He stood for civil rights, education for all, and progressive economic development. His work and his influence literally changed the face and future of the South, making him one of the most influential Americans of the last 50 years. Most important, he was a wonderful man who fought for the right things in the right way. I was lucky to count him as a friend.''
Sanford led a life as broad and as diverse as the state of North Carolina. He was a governor, U.S. senator, two-time presidential candidate, Duke University president, state legislator, lawyer, author of several books and an FBI agent.
He fought across Europe as a paratrooper during World War II, started the N.C. School of the Arts, helped create the state community college system, steered the state away from racial demagoguery during the explosive days of integration, and at age 63 managed to crack a vertebra while jumping off a 40-foot cliff into Oregon's Rogue River.
Throughout the post-World War II era, Sanford was the guiding force of the North Carolina Democratic Party -- a living link between the Branchhead Boy populism of Gov. Kerr Scott and the buttoned-down corporatism of Hunt.
He was an intellectual who wrote serious policy books and promoted the arts, and a back-slapping politician who loved to cut deals, smoke cigars and swap stories.
He died as he lived -- with many projects in the works -- from a novel he was writing about a man's journey through the 20th century to a proposed $100 million performing arts center he was pushing in Research Triangle Park.
Like many of his generation, Sanford, who was born Aug. 20, 1917, was shaped by the Depression. His father's hardware store in sleepy Laurinburg went bankrupt in 1929, and the family moved into an old schoolhouse that had been cut up into three rental houses.
All around there was misery, Sanford recalled. Life had always been hard for many of the mill families and farm families, but now it was brutal. His parents regarded Franklin Roosevelt, with his New Deal, as a savior. "When the New Deal came in, it was like someone turned on the lights, except most people didn't have lights to turn on,'' Sanford said. "The whole atmosphere changed.''
After high school, Sanford, by his own admission, arrived in Chapel Hill politically naive. But like a whole generation of graduates of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from Bill Friday to Charles Kuralt, Sanford came under the spell of the magnetic Frank Porter Graham, UNC's president and one of the South's leading liberal voices.
"I was tremendously influenced by Frank Graham,'' Sanford said. "I didn't understand the race issue when I went to Chapel Hill; I only knew what I had seen and heard people say. I learned about sharecroppers, and I learned about the textile workers and other workers who weren't allowed to unionize. I heard about women. I had thought women loved their situation.''
It was also at Chapel Hill that Sanford met his wife, Margaret Rose, a student from Kentucky.
The other major political influence on Sanford was Kerr Scott, governor from 1949 to 1953 and U.S. senator from 1955 to 1958, one of the pivotal figures in Tar Heel history.
Scott, the populist former agriculture commissioner from Haw River, put together a coalition of farmers and textile workers called "the Branchhead Boys" -- the rural people who lived at the head of the branch -- who ended the dominance of the more conservative Shelby Dynasty political machine. Scott was an activist governor who led a massive road building program and prodded utility companies to extend electricity to rural areas. Scott later would appoint Graham to the Senate after the death of Sen. J. Melville Broughton
"[Scott] said we could do things that we didn't imagine we could do,'' Sanford recalled. "That was a good lesson, too. I learned that from Kerr Scott. We can be just about anything we try to be. He only had four years to get his licks in.''
Sanford's introduction into big-time politics was as manager of Scott's 1954 Senate campaign.
It is difficult to overestimate Sanford's influence on the N.C. Democratic Party. His first taste of politics came as an 11-year-old marching in a torchlight parade for presidential candidate Al Smith in 1928 in Laurinburg. He carried a sign that read, "Me and Ma is for Al.''
Near the end of his life, Sanford was the party's grand old man, still working the phones in his Durham home telling candidates how to campaign and what consultants to hire -- whether they wanted his advice or not.
Sanford and his political sidekick and UNC classmate, Winston-Salem oil jobber Bert Bennett, built a political organization that would dominate the state Democratic Party from the 1960s through the 1980s. It was the Sanford-Bennett organization that plucked a little-known Wilson lawyer named Jim Hunt out of obscurity and set him on his political career.
Those candidates not anointed by the Sanford-Bennett-Hunt organization, such as Charlotte lawyer and gubernatorial candidate Eddie Knox, would bitterly complain about the power it wielded.
Bennett once said that Sanford and Hunt were alike in one way: a consuming drive to win. "It's in their gut,'' Bennett said. "Nothing satisfies it but running and winning. They have to want it worse than life itself.''
Sanford had eyed the governorship since his student days in Chapel Hill. He came close in 1956 to challenging Democratic Gov. Luther Hodges Jr., who had taken office after the death of Gov. William Umstead. Instead, he waited until his turn came in 1960.
Campaigning on a platform of improving public schools, Sanford led a field of several candidates in the primary. But he faced a runoff with I. Beverly Lake, a law professor who ran a segregationist campaign.
Racial issues dominated the runoff. Sanford took a moderate position for that era, accusing Lake of appealing to "blind prejudice'' and saying Lake's segregationist stance would lead North Carolina to "federal troops, to closed schools."
Sanford won with 56 percent of the vote and went on to beat Republican Robert Gavin in the fall.
"That has to be a significant event in the history of the state because it's the first time that a racist campaign had ever been defeated,'' Sanford told the Oral History Project at UNC.
When Sanford took office, North Carolina and the South were a racial powder keg. Across the South, there were pro-integration Freedom Riders, a resurgent Ku Klux Klan, mob violence, and federal troops occupying college campuses. The lunch counter sit-in movement began in Greensboro just weeks after Sanford took office, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was created in Raleigh.
While some Southern governors were calling for mass resistance to integration, Sanford was one of the first to preach moderation. In his 1961 inaugural address, Sanford called for a "new day'' in which "no group of our citizens can be denied the right to participate in the opportunities of first-class citizenship.''
"The most difficult thing I did was the most invisible thing,'' Sanford said in an interview in February. "That was to turn the attitude on the race issue. I realized that the lines of history were intersecting right there as I took the governorship.
"The leadership that was needed had to come from the top. It gave me what I considered just a priceless opportunity. I think we did turn it in that direction."
Sanford grasped the governorship with gusto.
"I got the most fun and excitement out of being governor,'' Sanford said. "You can think of something in the morning, no matter how outrageous it was, and get it moving by noon. And by sundown have a majority of people with you -- maybe. We did some things that needed to be done.''
Innovations flowed out of the governor's office. Sanford was one of the founders of the state community college system. He created the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. He founded the Governor's School, a summer enrichment program for bright high school students. He created the Learning Institute of North Carolina to provide research for improving education.
And he founded the North Carolina Fund, a model anti-poverty program that would serve as a model for President Johnson's War on Poverty. Sanford didn't do all this alone, of course, but he was at the fulcrum.
Many of the new programs were creatively funded by private foundation grants. But to finance others he persuaded the legislature to remove the exemptions from the state's 3 percent sales tax, including food and prescription medicine -- a move that prompted his critics to label him "Food Tax Terry.''
Sanford didn't mind getting his hands dirty in politics, trading roads for the votes of legislators.
Sanford had his failures and paid a price for his racial moderation and his new taxes: Voters rejected a statewide capital improvement bond issue in 1962, the first such rejection since 1924. The legislature passed the Speaker Ban, forbidding communists from speaking on state campuses. And Sanford's choice as a successor, L. Richardson Preyer, lost the 1964 Democratic primary to Dan K. Moore. Moore, a moderately conservative Democrat, was elected governor while criticizing Sanford.
Sanford's governorship was highly rated by historians. A 1981 Harvard University study rated Sanford -- along with the likes of Woodrow Wilson and Huey Long -- as one of the nation's top 10 governors of the 20th century.
North Carolina's constitution then barred governors from seeking a second consecutive term, so Sanford found himself having achieved his lifelong goal and looking for another career at age 47.
Sanford didn't have a clear idea of what he wanted to do. From 1965 until 1970, when he became president of Duke, Sanford started a Raleigh law firm, wrote two books, and helped create two organizations: The Education Commission of the States and the Southern Growth Policies Board.
He turned down a number of top jobs, including the presidency of the Ford Foundation and the U.S. ambassadorship to France. His name was frequently mentioned in connection with Cabinet posts.
The Duke presidency was a natural fit for Sanford.
"Of all the things I have done,'' Sanford said, "the fulfillment of my life was Duke. I went there with a concept, and I think I went there with a mandate. I set out to make it a nationally recognized school, or nationally influential in the world of education, which meant you had to make your student body better and better all the time. You had to work constantly every chance you got to reward the faculty and to improve the faculty position in the university world. I think over the years, Duke has become a nationally ranked university.''
Among his chief accomplishments at Duke were the creation of the Institute of Policy Science Affairs, now known as the Sanford Institute; the doubling of the Duke Medical Center's capacity; and the construction of the J.B. Fuqua School of Business. The university's endowment increased from $70 million to $200 million.
During the anti-war protests of 1970, Sanford helped keep calm at Duke by moving among the students sharing his own doubts about the Vietnam War. Sanford later stirred up controversy by proposing in 1981 that the Nixon presidential library be built at Duke -- a plan that died as a result of student and faculty opposition.
While Sanford may have found Duke satisfying, he always had his eye on a larger political stage.
He had arrived on the national scene in 1960, when, as the Democratic nominee for governor, he became the first major political figure in the South to endorse John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, for president.
The South was solidly behind Lyndon Johnson of Texas, who was then the Senate majority leader, and Sanford's backing of Kennedy -- including seconding his nomination at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles -- caused a political firestorm at home in heavily Protestant North Carolina.
But Sanford's bold gamble paid off when Kennedy appointed former North Carolina Gov. Luther Hodges as his commerce secretary, and Kennedy made sure that the new Environmental Protection Agency research facility was located in the new Research Triangle Park.
During the 1968 presidential race, Sanford was national chairman of Vice President Hubert Humphrey's campaign. Humphrey offered Sanford the job of national Democratic Party chairman in 1969, but Sanford turned it down. Sixteen years later, Sanford ran for the top party post as a champion of moderate Democrats seeking unsuccessfully to defeat a candidate with strong ties to the Kennedys.
He became chairman in 1973 of the 100-member Democratic Party Charter Commission, which rewrote the party's presidential nominating rules.
Sanford twice ran as a dark horse presidential candidate.
He campaigned in 1972 as an opponent of the Vietnam War, on the need to close tax loopholes for the wealthy, and to substitute local initiatives for the federal bureaucracy. His plan was to win the North Carolina presidential preference primary and go to the national convention as a compromise choice if the convention should deadlock.
To win the North Carolina primary, Sanford had to defeat Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who had risen to power as a segregationist. The contest was dubbed "the Dixie Classic'' because it pitted two strains of Southern politicians against each other.
Sanford's presidential chances died when Wallace embarrassed him in his home state by a margin of 50 percent to 37 percent. Among the reasons often given was Sanford's continued unpopularity because of his positions on the food tax and civil rights, his lack of campaign money, and the lack of support from blacks, many of whom voted for Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York.
Two years later, Sanford began putting together a second presidential effort, but it fell apart even more quickly than the first.
Short of money and support, Sanford pulled out of the race in January 1976 before a scheduled rematch with Wallace in the North Carolina primary.
"I never had the gut feeling that I should be president," Sanford said this year. "You need that absolute gut feeling and all kinds of arrogant attitudes about yourself to run for president. I had that gut feeling to run for governor. I would go anywhere, anytime, day or night, in order to establish another supporter. I intended to be governor.''
Sanford, who had managed Scott's 1954 Senate campaign, had considered running for the Senate several times. But it was not until he retired as Duke president that Sanford, then 69, entered the Senate race in 1986.
His candidacy at first was met with skepticism by party leaders who thought time had passed the old liberal by. But when Sanford failed to persuade either UNC President Bill Friday or state Party Chairman Wade Smith to enter the race, he got back in, defeating Republican Jim Broyhill.
During his six years in the Senate, Sanford took some high-profile positions -- most notably against the Persian Gulf war and the nomination of conservative Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.
He sought to stabilize Central America, seeking to mediate differences and also to promote economic development in the region through an international commission he created.
There were some bumps. Flip-flops on a highway bill earned him the nickname "Turnaround Terry.''
While respected and liked by his colleagues, Congressional Quarterly noted that his high-profile stands and quixotic nature "may keep him from leaving much of a legislative mark.''
Seeking re-election in 1992, Sanford was hurt by his gulf war stand and by his reluctance, as a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, to condemn the so-called Keating Five senators involved in a savings and loan scandal.
Sanford was challenged by Republican Lauch Faircloth, a former Democratic ally who had switched parties. The two men had a falling out during the 1986 election, when Faircloth had intended to run for the Senate and thought Sanford had violated an understanding when he entered the race.
Faircloth successfully attacked Sanford's liberal voting record. And Sanford's age became a factor when he underwent heart surgery during the fall campaign.
Sanford never publicly expressed any bitterness about his defeat. For one thing, his private life was so rich.
He started two major Raleigh law firms -- one after he was governor and another after his Senate term. He served on numerous corporate boards. In the 1980s, he also became involved with his son in the development of the Treyburn commercial and residential development north of Durham.
A former Eagle Scout, Sanford often found time for backpacking, whitewater rafting and other activities with the Outward Bound program, which he helped direct.
On an Outward Bound excursion at age 63, with retired Adm. Elmo Zumwalt and Arthur Levitt Jr., chairman of the American Stock Exchange, Sanford cracked a vertebra while jumping off a 40-foot cliff into Oregon's Rogue River.
Friends say Sanford always wanted people to know he was tough.
As a young man, Sanford quit his draft-exempt job as an FBI special agent to enlist in the paratroops. He fought in five campaigns in Italy, France, Belgium and Germany, including the invasion of France and the Battle of the Bulge, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
"I wanted to go in the Army so I could say I joined my generation,'' Sanford said. "That stay in the Army as a paratrooper, in a kind of personal way, is my greatest satisfaction.''
Sanford could also be folksy and witty, exchanging stories about rural rascals and country graveyards. Sometimes Sanford -- always smooth as a good Southern bourbon -- would tell the stories while puffing on a stogie -- a habit he eventually gave up.
At Duke, he held an Annual Varmint Banquet dinner featuring such gamey delights as raccoon, squirrel pie, and his personal favorite, barbecued wild goat.
Even in his last years, Sanford was full of restless energy.
He worked at his Raleigh law firm, headed the N.C. Museum of Art, wrote a book on aging, taught at Duke, launched an effort to build a $100 million performing arts center in the Triangle, and was working on a novel on a man's journey through the 20th century.
Even as he battled an illness that doctors told him was a death sentence, and struggled with chemotherapy, Sanford was ever the optimist, saying he planned to finish his novel "next summer if all goes well.''
Sanford said he had made plans to be buried at Duke Chapel. Asked what he would like on his memorial, Sanford said: "I don't know. I haven't given it any thought.''
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
© 1998 The News & Observer Publishing Co. / Raliegh, NC Used by permission.