Prominent Gainesville attorney and philanthropist Phillip Bond Sartain, known for his intelligence, his sense of humor and an unwavering commitment to his community, died peacefully Monday morning, his family said. He was 62.
Although an attorney by trade, Sartain is perhaps best known for his involvement with local organizations and charities, especially the Georgia Mountain Food Bank and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Lanier.
"Phillip was an intense guy," said friend and attorney Abb Hayes. "Anything he was telling you about or discussing or going to get involved with, he was all in. He was passionate about politics. He loved writing his columns. Just a guy who had a lot of interests and passions, who made a huge impact on my life."
Bonnie Oliver, a Superior Court judge in Hall County, said Sartain made his community a better place.
"We lost a true master craftsman who built and strengthened his church, his family, his clients, his friends and his community with firm support, unwavering sincere devotion and unsurpassed skill," Oliver said.
For 30 years, until his retirement in 2016, Sartain was a partner with his father and two brothers in the Sartain Law Firm in Gainesville, where he specialized in workers' compensation and Social Security disability law. As an attorney, Sartain was known for his intelligence, extensive legal knowledge and an unmatched dedication to his clients.
"He was well known as just a brilliant lawyer," Hayes said.
Outside his office, Sartain served many local groups, including the Red Cross, the Gainesville Symphony, United Way, the Arts Council (as past President). He was the chairman of the organizing committee for the 2003 Flatwater Canoe/Kayak World Championships held at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue.
But Hayes said Sartain's legacy might be his work with the Boys & Girls Clubs. Hayes served with him on that board. Sartain was presented with the organization's highest honor, the Helping Hands Award, which it named it his honor.
"He's made just a huge impact on the organization," Hayes said. "Not just the organization, but the kids we serve. … Phillip was a champion for kids. Under Phillip’s tireless leadership, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier intensified its focus on academic and character-building opportunities and expanded services to thousands of children and youth."
Sartain was also a founding member of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, which awarded him its highest honor, the Reflections of Heart Award. Sartain often spent Saturday mornings with his daughters volunteering to distribute food.
In 2016, Sartain was diagnosed with early onset Frontal Temporal Dementia, a diagnosis he faced with trademark bravery and dignity.
Shortly after his diagnosis, Sartain published "Pony Tales – Stories from My Life with Four Women," a collection of columns that he had written for Lakeside on Lanier over 20 years. The column, entitled “Break from the Lake,” usually focused on life’s ups and downs with the women in his life, wife Lydia and daughters Callie, Carey and Susanna. Proceeds from the book went to the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Hayes said he last saw Sartain about six months ago when he and a friend took him to lunch. Although the effects of the dementia were evident, Hayes said Sartain was still the same person he knew.
"Even as he struggled somewhat, he was still very humorous," Hayes said. "He always had such a great sense of humor. It was just great to spend time with him, even as he struggled with his memory."
In 2018, Sartain and his wife established an endowment at Brenau University to explore and establish academic programs for addressing social justice issues and practices. The couple asked the university to use the $50,000 gift to support students with majors from a variety of disciplines who plan to use their educations in fields like family and children services, social work or similar community service-oriented endeavors.
Ed Schrader, who was Brenau president in 2018, said at the time he was “extremely grateful, but unsurprised” by the Sartain gift.
“You would not have to know the Sartains long to completely understand that this compulsion for service is woven into the fabric of their natures,” Schrader said. “It is a gentle reminder that public service should be woven into the mission of the university as well.”
Sartain was an avid outdoorsman and explorer. He once drove his family in an RV to all 48 contiguous states. He was also a snow skier and traveled the country for an opportunity to hit the slopes.
Sartain was born in Royston at the Ty Cobb Memorial Hospital, but he grew up in Gainesville and graduated from Gainesville High School. After a short time at North Georgia College, he transferred to Emory University, where he graduated with highest honors and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
He then attended the University of Georgia School of Law.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorial contributions be made to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, P.O. Box 233, Gainesville, GA 30503, the Boys & Girls Club of Lanier, P.O. Box 691, Gainesville, GA 30503 or the Sartain Fund for Community Engagement at Brenau University.