Editor’s Notes – John F. Schaffner
During her 26 years representing the city of Sandy Springs in the Georgia House, former state Rep. Dorothy Felton, who passed away Feb. 19, was, as she described herself, “a double minority — a woman and a Republican.” She was the first Republican woman elected to the Georgia House in the mid-1970s.
For much of that time, she must have felt like she was tilting at the proverbial windmills as year after year she fought for incorporation of the city of Sandy Springs in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, only to be beaten back time and again.
Sandy Springs might well have been named Dorothy Town because of the woman who devoted 30 years to create the new city in Fulton County. Rather, the new city’s major interstate exit at I-285 and Roswell Road is named to honor Dorothy Felton, who overcame her minority status to effectively represent Sandy Springs.
Elected to the House in 1974, Felton introduced legislation every year for Sandy Springs’ independence, beginning in 1976.
Felton died at the age of 78 after a long illness. She is survived by her husband of 55 years, J. Jerome Felton Jr., their two sons, Jethro and Bryan, and their families.
She had retired from the Georgia Assembly in 2000, but lived long enough to see Republicans take control of that body and to see her home of Sandy Springs become a city.
Not only was Felton the first Republican woman elected to the Georgia Legislature, she holds the record as the longest-serving woman and longest-serving Republican.
Along with being a champion for Sandy Springs cityhood, Felton also supported for education.
She lived in the Sandy Springs community since 1966, and thought her neighbors needed full-time representation in the legislature. She used education as her springboard to elected office and wrote the legislation that moved Georgia to elected school boards with appointed superintendents.
Like her constituents, she was frustrated that Sandy Springs paid millions more dollars a year in county taxes than it received in county services. That fueled her drive for incorporation.
I first met Rep. Felton in the late 1980s, when we both sat on the board of directors for the former Sandy Springs Chamber of Commerce, along with Mayor Eva Galambos and City Councilman Tibby DeJulio. I remember Felton and Galambos appearing as soldiers in arms to me — shoulder to shoulder fighting for their single dream, a city of Sandy Springs.
I never knew much about her background, however, until I read her funeral notice and stories reporting her death. I never knew, for instance, that she had worked as a journalist for the Tulsa Tribune, in her home town of Tulsa, Okla., after college and before getting married and moving to the Atlanta area in 1953. She was born Dorothy Jean Wood on March 1, 1929.
But, what I did know about Dorothy Felton I liked. She was smart, bright, displayed great honesty and integrity, she was a tenacious fighter in what was definitely a man’s world.
During her final years in the legislature, I lost track of her. But, I knew she fought until her final day at the Capitol for better education for all children and for a city of Sandy Springs.
It was very fitting that her successor, District 52 Rep. Joe Wilkinson, invited her back to the House in 2005 to witness the vote that led to the incorporation of Sandy Springs.
If she had still been a member of the legislature then, she would no longer have been a “double minority.” Men still dominated in the hall, but Republicans also dominated in both the House and Senate and in the governor’s office.
A lot had changed since she became a member of the legislature in 1974, and Dorothy Felton was very much a part of that change.