Terry Sanford, Paratrooper, Governor, University President

A portrait of Sanford from the State Archives

On August 20, 1917, North Carolina governor and U.S. Senator Terry Sanford was born in Laurinburg. An Eagle Scout as a youth, Sanford graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1939 and became an FBI agent before marrying Margaret Rose Knight in July 1942. They later had two children.

During World War II, Sanford fought in France as a U.S. Army paratrooper. Returning home a decorated combat veteran, he earned a law degree from Carolina, began a legal career and soon entered politics.

A Sanford for President bumper sticker held by the N.C. Museum of History

A Democrat, Sanford served one term as state senator before winning the 1960 gubernatorial race. As governor, he advocated for civil rights and education, led efforts to consolidate the UNC system and helped create a statewide community college system.

In 1969, Sanford began a 16-year stint as Duke University president. Twice during the 1970s he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. President. Then, in 1986, he was elected to the U.S. Senate only to lose his re-election bid in 1992.


During his later years, Sanford wrote several books, practiced law and taught at Duke. He died of cancer on in April 1998, at age 80, and was entombed in the crypt of Duke University Chapel.

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