Terry Sanford, Ex-U.S. Senator and N.C. Governor, Dies
By Martin Weil
Terry Sanford, 80, a former governor of North Carolina and president of Duke University, whose career as a widely admired and respected Democratic political leader culminated with a term in the U.S. Senate, died of cancer yesterday at his home in Durham, N.C.
An amiable man, loyal to his party but known also for independent thinking, Gov. Sanford became known early in his career for an ability -- based on both personality and principle -- to achieve substantial political success in a political environment often thought uncongenial to the moderate or progressive views he espoused.
This, and his high profile leadership at Duke, attracted the interest and support of many Democrats both inside and outside his native North Carolina, who saw him as representing their party's possibilities of survival in the South, at a time when a Republican tide was sweeping through what had once been a solidly Democratic region. Ranked in a Harvard University study as one of the 20th-century's most creative governors because of his achievements in the statehouse from 1961 to 1965, Gov. Sanford made forays onto the national stage in the 1970s; in 1972 and in 1976, he sought unsuccessfully his party's presidential nomination.
Gov. Sanford's inoperable cancer was diagnosed in December. He underwent a second round of chemotherapy last week before being discharged on Wednesday from the Duke University Medical Center.
Heart valve surgery during his campaign for reelection to the Senate made his health a campaign issue at that time, and was believed to have contributed to his defeat. Indeed, his election to the Senate in 1986 was seen as a kind of last hurrah for a 69-year-old whose electoral career had seemed to peak years before.
In the Senate, he had made a mark for the forcefulness of his opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork. He was also remembered for taking a strong stand in opposition to the nation's embarking on the Persian Gulf War.
It was Gov. Sanford's reputation as a moderate among his fellow Senate Democrats that led them to choose him in 1988 to respond to a speech by President Reagan attacking the campaign against the Bork nomination.
"We are tired of having our integrity impugned," Gov. Sanford said in what was viewed as an eloquent defense of the Senate's right to withhold its consent from presidential nominations. "We are tired of having our sincerity questioned. We are tired of having our intelligence insulted."
The speech, coming from a man who could not be readily characterized as an extremist, was viewed as a landmark in the campaign that led to the rejection of the nomination.
Even after his 1992 defeat at the hands of Republican Lauch Faircloth, Gov. Sanford, a paratrooper in World War II, had continued a life of vigorous activity.
He had been president of Duke from 1969 to 1985, a tenure of unusual duration in one of the most turbulent periods for American higher education. After his defeat, he taught classes there in government and public policy, wrote books, held the rank of senior partner in a law firm, and served as a director of charitable, legal and educational organizations.
Gov. Sanford was born Aug. 20, 1917, in Laurinburg, N.C. where his father was a merchant and his mother taught in the public schools. Dishwashing helped him pay his way through the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, from which he graduated in 1939. He served in 1941-42 as an FBI agent.
Shortly after the United States entered World War II, he went into the Army; he became a paratrooper, and was involved in five major campaigns in Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge, rising from private to first lieutenant. He held the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. A back injury that plagued him for the rest of his life stemmed from his paratrooper service.
After the war, he graduated from law school at Chapel Hill, served as assistant director of the university's Institute of Government and began the private practice of law in Fayetteville. He served in the state senate in 1953 to 1955.
During his years as governor, he focused on improving public education. He advocated legislation to raise teacher salaries and create a community college system and was known then as one of the nation's "education governors."
He financed many of his improvements with a sales tax on food that he justified in a speech as a "small measure of sacrifice . . . that would swing open the doors to our children . . . and provide the opportunities that will put this state in the front ranks of our community of states."
He was credited with starting an antipoverty program, with helping to defuse tensions over race by setting up Good Neighbor Councils and with calling for employment without regard to race, creed or color. It was Gov. Sanford who was credited with launching North Carolina's State Board of Science and Technology to help convert scientific advances into new techniques for the state's industries.
North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. said Gov. Sanford's optimism and commitment to excellence in public education "have changed us forever."
Hunt said that in 1960 he "plunged into the campaign to elect him governor and to me he was the best one ever."
In his first month as Duke president, he showed the flexibility that enabled him to survive and harness the currents of protest that unseated many of his colleagues.
Students blocked traffic in a protest of the shootings of students at Kent State University in Ohio during a Vietnam War protest. Gov. Sanford seized a bullhorn, endorsed the students' anger, but advised: "Don't fight us. Let us all fight Washington together."
Later, the students threatened to take over the school's main administration building. "Great," he said. "Take me with you. . . . I've been trying to occupy it for a month."
After stepping down in 1985 from the presidency at Duke, Gov. Sanford was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Survivors include Sanford's wife of 52 years, Margaret; his son, Terry Sanford Jr.; his daughter, Betsee; two grandchildren; and two sisters.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company