Mary Sanders never married and never gave birth to children of her own.
But in a figurative sense she was a loving mother to thousands of children, in a community that is a far better place to live because of her presence.
Columbia County's public education system is highly regarded and jealously protected here at home, and a strong attraction to outsiders.
Sure, a large part of that is the natural happenstance of the county's relatively comfortable standard of living. But Columbia County wasn't always well-off suburbia. Like many other Southern communities, it once was rural, agrarian and segregated. The transition from that era to the modern era was no accident, and two citizens are largely responsible.
The late John Pierce Blanchard served for 32 years as the county's school superintendent. During that time, he brought along a great many fellow educators who helped build the county's modern system.
One of them became nearly as legendary, playing a vital role in the school system's transition to desegregation. If Blanchard was the father of the county's modern school system, Mary Sanders was its mother.
Sadly, Sanders is to be buried today on her 98th birthday. Of those 98 years, 60 of them were spent in public education - as a principal, an administrator and a member of the school board.
Sanders selflessly, graciously gave her life to Columbia County's schools. While Blanchard was the visionary, Sanders was the worker in the trenches, helping to smooth the county's path from segregated one-room schoolhouses to modern facilities for all children.
With a firm hand, a kind heart and boundless optimism, Sanders raised this school system, and every child in it, just as lovingly as if it were her own offspring.
Every educator working in Columbia County schools stands on that powerful legacy. And every parent of a child in those schools owes Mary Sanders a debt of gratitude.
Our community is better because she was part of it, and we are deeply saddened at her loss.
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