South Carolina

February 26, 2011

The Alex I know

What people who know him say about Alex Sanders

“I have spent the greater part of my adult life being entertained, educated and inspired by Alex Sanders. Like Yogi Berra, his words first amuse us and then upon further reflection, we realize the core truths that they contain. Regarding how best to effect change, he reminded us that ‘If you always do what you’ve already done, you’ll always get what you’ve already got.’ Upon considering the habit of organizations to study problems to death without ever acting, he observed that, ‘A pig doesn’t get any heavier by weighing it.’

“Satirizing the oft-repeated quote that those who ignore the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them, Alex concluded that ‘Anyone who has ever heard that quote is condemned to repeat it.’ And yet he is always quick to add that if history has taught us anything, it is that it remains our responsibility to ‘dream more clearly and act more nobly in our own lives.’ Because, in the words of grace he offers at mealtime, ‘We are all guests at God’s table and there is plenty for all if only we will share.’ Alex Sanders never fails to entertain, educate and inspire.”

Andy Abrams, dean, Charleston School of Law

“During our 2002 campaign, Alex Sanders was a consummate gentleman and worthy opponent. ... The differences in our campaign were political, never personal. ...

“On election night, after a long, grueling campaign, I was declared the winner. Instead of picking up the phone and offering a customary ‘Nice job,’ Alex and his wife got into their car, drove over to the hotel where we were hosting our election night party, came up to our room, and offered congratulations in person. In these days of bitter and oftentimes personal politics, Alex’s actions that night were something I will long remember and speak volumes about his character.”

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham

“Alex Sanders is the best storyteller I’ve ever met in my life. Whenever I am with him, I want everybody else in the room to shut up, including myself, because I want nothing to impede that great siege of story. One year, his daughter got me invited to speak at her graduation ceremonies at the University of Virginia. The university sent a plane to pick me up in Atlanta, but the weather was so bad that the plane just got to Charlotte. I called Zoe Caroline (Sanders’ daughter) and told her the bad news. She immediately said, ‘I’ll have to get dad to take your place.’ He had a very limited amount of time to prepare a graduation speech for one of the best universities on earth. How did he do? Graduates of the University of Virginia who heard Alex that day still stop and thank me for not showing up.”

Pat Conroy, author

“I was sworn in as the first woman to serve as a justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court on St. Patrick’s Day, 1988. Shortly before the historic event began, a large leprechaun in a trench coat and fedora worn low mounted the steps of the S.C. Supreme Court and affixed a big pink bow with a sign ‘It’s a Girl’ on the columns. Officious security officers were outraged and ready to take it down. Fortunately, I was told and my first order as a judge was to direct that it be left up. Witnesses described the perpetrator as bearing a remarkable resemblance to the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals (Alex Sanders), but that couldn’t be right. He had an alibi. He was in court with me, wasn’t he? ... The Alex Sanders I’ve known as a cherished friend and fellow warrior for our beloved state is a man of intense intellectual rigor and a remarkably well-honed sense of decency.”

Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal, South Carolina Supreme Court

“In the late ’60s and early ’70s, I had the privilege of serving in the South Carolina House of Representatives. ... Three other colleagues and I would look forward to our Tuesday and Wednesday lunches with Alex, usually at the Market Restaurant.

“We had many offers from lobbyists to have lunch with, but it was much more enjoyable to be with Alex. We would be entertained with fresh stories each time. They would make you laugh, sometimes uproariously, and many times made a very good substantive point. ... Thursday evening at supper I would tell my family the most recent Alex Sanders stories. That added to the laughter and fun of our family suppers. Alex Sanders’ wit and happy disposition was for us the best dessert possible.”

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.

“I have known Alex since the 1960s, when we were lawyers practicing law in Columbia. Rarely do you find a person with Alex’s wit, intelligence and realistic approach to life. I had the pleasure of serving with him on the South Carolina Court of Appeals from its inception in 1983 until he left to become president of the College of Charleston.

“In a 1991 case, addressing the lack of merit to an appellant’s argument, he stated: ‘Whatever doesn’t make any difference doesn’t matter.’ Alex’s contributions to South Carolina deserve the highest recognition.”

Judge Jasper M. Cureton

“My favorite recollection occurred in the 1974 election for S.C. governor. This was the year of the rising of the ‘Young Turks’ in S.C. politics who challenged the might of the infamous Barnwell Ring. Dick Riley (who was elected governor in 1978), Joe Riley (who became mayor of Charleston), ‘Pug’ Ravenel (an unsuccessful candidate for governor and U.S. Senate), Alex Sanders and Tom Smith (an outspoken state senator from Florence) — all state senators and representatives — sought to become the leaders of the young progressive movement.

“Pug was the Democratic nominee for governor in the 1974 primary with thousands of young people voting for the first time for the ticket of Ravenel/Sanders. ... This ... was overturned by the state Supreme Court on the grounds of (Ravenel’s) nonresidency. The Supreme Court, in a dilemma with no candidate in late August, had the Democrats hold (a) second statewide nominating committee in early fall to select a candidate. Alex was nominated and ran for governor and finished second on the first ballot, later withdrawing to let Bryan Dorn have the nomination. In one year, 1974, Alex Sanders ran and lost for governor and lieutenant governor. That has never happened since.”

James Quackenbush, Columbia attorney

A place in history

“Alex Sanders will be remembered for many things: politician, educator and environmentalist. But, I believe, he will be remembered above all for his creativity with words. Like all old-fashioned Southern storytellers, he’s a good listener. He’s someone who can take a good story he’s heard and make it his own — and, with suitable embellishment, elevate it into the realm of fable. A case in point would be the debate over the existence of the ivory-billed woodpecker in the Santee Swamp. Alex’s tales are spellbinding — very much in the 19th-century tradition of Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, Davy Crockett, Joseph Glover Baldwin and George Washington Cable.”

Walter Edgar, Carolina Trustee Professor at the University of South Carolina and author of “South Carolina: A History”

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