Former commission chairman, Gilmer native JC Sanford passes

  • JC Sanford
    JC Sanford

Humble, honest and hard working are some of the ways that family and friends are remembering JC Sanford. The former county commissioner and longtime business owner passed away Saturday at the age of 78.

Sanford grew up in the Corbin Hill community of Ellijay and was working his first job by age 13, remembered his wife, Martha.

JC and Martha Sanford
JC Sanford with wife, Martha.

“His first job was working for L.M. Bramlett at the movie theater that was where the Cantaberry (Restaurant) is now. He ran the projector at the theater from the time he was 13 till after we were married. He would show all the old, old movies you see,” she said. 

“Up at the top (of the building), there was a window he could open up and see anything that was going on in town.” 


Always had two things going

Sanford ran several businesses before starting his own grading company almost 40 years ago, Martha said. 

“He always had a job or two jobs or a job and a business. He always had two things going to keep him busy,” she added.

“He worked for Amoco Oil. He started out as a serviceman for the gas company. It changed names, but he stayed there and he was a branch manager for Amoco Oil for a long time. We owned a cafe in the early ‘70s. It was in East Ellijay right at the bridge. He had a service station for years and we bought Reece Brothers Grocery on River Street and were there for years. It was Jay’s Grocery then.” 

Most recently, Sanford ran chicken houses and the grading company with his sons, Clinton and Tommy, both of whom confirmed they learned the value of hard work from their dad. 

“He was a great dad. He taught us good values and tried to lead us down the right roads. We were supposed to work hard, of course. If you did something for somebody else, you were supposed to give them a full measure,” said Clinton.

“Heap it up, shake it down and heap it up again,” added Tommy about working with his dad.

Clinton continued, “We would be open on holidays at the service station and the store. A lot of people would’ve thought that was because of the money, but he really wanted to be there for people who were traveling or needed something. He would get a lot done for a little amount of money. Not only as a commissioner, but in everything he did. He would search till he found a deal and pass it along.”

The name “JC’ didn’t stand for a longer name, just the two letters with no periods between them, Clinton noted. 

“That’s what his mama named him. JC was his (first) name,” he confirmed. 

Martha said she and her husband were two of the first GED program graduates in the county.

“He went through the 11th grade and then he needed to go to work. We were in the first class to get a GED when the (program started in) the county. There was a bunch of us who went. We had to go to night school, study and take tests. We’d been married 10 years at that time,” she remembered.

Martha described herself and JC as “true believers” in Jesus Christ, a principle that’s guided both their lives. She remembered how Sanford would give out inspirational “Jesus coins” to children and others.

“Somebody gave him one when he was in office and it touched him so much that he got the address and started ordering them to give away,” she said.


JC and children
JC Sanford with his children, Clinton, Gina and Tommy.

‘Kind, humble public servant’

The main reason Sanford decided to run for a commissioner’s seat was because he wanted to help the people in his home county, his wife said.

“That was his life’s thing, helping people,” Martha confirmed. 

He served in two different county positions, first as post two commissioner and later as the commission board’s chairman from 2011-2014.

Clinton and Tommy recalled their dad’s approach to campaigning. 

“He certainly would stop and talk to people or talk to somebody if they called him, but he didn’t push real hard to be elected. He’d just say he put his name in the hat,” Clinton said.

“He didn’t take political contributions. He financed his own campaigns,” added Tommy. 

Danny Hall, who was elected post two commissioner at the same time Sanford was elected BOC chairman, spoke highly of his colleague’s efficiency and determination while in office.

“JC was very smart, plus he was honest as the day is long. He didn’t even want to cash his checks because of the shape the county was in then,” Hall said. 

“When we took over, the county was close to letting the state take over as far as money goes. God picked him at the perfect time because he’s always been very efficient. By the time we left, a lot of money was brought back in and the debt had been brought down in different ways.” 

Hall noted that some of the attractions and designations for which Gilmer has since become known started to take shape while Sanford was in office.

“There’s a lot of things we’re (recognized for) now that started coming into play about that time. When he was chairman, he tried to let everybody know that Gilmer County was number 8 in the state as far as agriculture and that it wasn’t one type of agriculture. It’s anything from cattle to chickens to apples, now vineyards. The vineyards kicked off while we were in there. Because the economy was down, people from Atlanta would take short vacations here because at least they could see the farms and all of that,” Hall said.

“I know he sat up lots of nights studying it. He put his time in,” Martha added.

Gilmer Chamber President Paige Hutto commended Sanford for putting the best interests of the county first during a tough time in its history.

“JC was one of the kindest, most humble public servants I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Though we didn’t always see eye to eye, we had a mutual respect and love for our community,” Hutto said. 

“He held the reins during one of the most challenging economic times and made tough choices. His love and passion for sharing the best of our county always showed. He was proud to be from Gilmer County and he carried that with him, always.”

Hall said he knew and trusted Sanford long before the two served on the same commission board.

“I’m sure I’ve known him for 30 years or longer. He was a good, honest man. That’s the main thing. We butted heads a few times as commissioners, but that’s part of it and we always worked things out,” Hall added. 

“He gave of himself to help this county and everything he did was to try to make it better.”

Sanford had been battling pulmonary fibrosis and other ailments the past few years, Martha noted.

“He was a husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. He searched for God’s way. What he always wanted was to do (things) God’s way,” she said.