In 1942, in the small farming community of Bay Branch, Georgia, John Nathan Deal was born to Mary and Noah J. Deal. His parents likely never guessed the lofty offices to which their son would rise, but Deal was destined to prove that big things can come from small places.
Most of Deal’s childhood was spent in the town of Sandersville, where he excelled as a student and became a Future Farmers of America national champion. He won state farming and hog raising competitions and dreamed of one day becoming a veterinarian. One particularly fortuitous trip to Mercer College—where Deal would go on to win the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in 1964—changed everything. He visited the campus for a debate competition, and decided he wanted to come back to pursue his education.
A student body president and ROTC cadet commander at Mercer, Deal was selected for the Sullivan Award as a result of his track record of service and hard work while a student. He returned to Sandersville during the summers to work at a local canning plant to pay for college, while still finding the time to sing in the church choir. It was at choir practice the summer of his sophomore year that he met his future wife, Sandra Dunagan.
After his graduation and marriage to Sandra, Deal joined the Army JAG Corps. Following his service, he accepted an offer to practice in a one-man law office in Gainesville. It was then that he fully realized the influence he could have on people’s lives and began to discover his calling to serve his neighbors and his community. As his career grew, so did his family. He and Sandra, married now for 49 years, raised four children on a farm in Hall County.
In 1980, Deal served his first of six terms in the State Senate, quickly becoming known for his work ethic, his team approach, and his ability to get things done. In 1992, Deal went to Washington, serving nine terms in Congress before his servant’s heart called him home.
In 2010, he became the 82nd governor of Georgia. He also reconnected with Gayle Hollinger, a docent at the Governor’s Mansion, whom he’d first met nearly 50 years earlier. Her name was Gayle Watson then, when she shared the stage with Deal at Mercer College to receive the 1964 Margaret Sullivan Award. To think—two Sullivan Award recipients working to better their state under one roof! And quite an impressive roof, at that.