Sometimes his dry sense of humor would catch people off guard. If you didn’t know Phillip Sartain well, you might think he was being flippant.
“That’s just the way he was, always cracking jokes and keeping people on their toes,” said Joyce Wilson, chief development officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier. The pair first met in the early 2000s, when Wilson joined the staff of the clubs. Sartain was a long-time board member. “When we first met, I believe it was at a Duck Derby meeting, I wasn’t quite sure how to take him, but soon his endearingly dry sense of humor and funny personality won me over. It is such a loss that he’s gone.”
Sartain, a Gainesville native and attorney, grew up in the Boys Clubs of Hall County. He knew first-hand how important it was for the youngsters there to interact with adults.
“As busy as Phillip was in his law practice, with his family or in the community, he always had time to be here for the kids,” Wilson said. “He would just come by and spend a couple of hours with them, encouraging them and listening to them. His passion was to help the kids. It was important to him as a kid, and he never forgot it.”
Abb Hayes, attorney with Hulsey, Oliver & Mahar, got to know Sartain through the Boys & Girls Clubs. “I was serving on the board of Girls Inc. back when the two clubs merged, and Phillip was very active with the Boys Clubs,” Hayes said. “One day during the transition he asked to meet with me as our boards of the two organizations were being combined, so we did. After we sat down, he got very serious, telling me that he needed my help. I told him I would certainly be serving on the new board. Then he said, “Abb, I mean I REALLY need your help in a huge way.” Needless to say he got my attention. From then on, I upped my game and my involvement with Boys & Girls Clubs. That was 20 or so years ago and Boys & Girls Clubs has been a major part of my life ever since. I credit Phillip Sartain for that.”
Kay Blackstock, founder and executive director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, has known Sartain for more than 30 years. When she worked for the North Georgia Community Foundation, Sartain was a leader with Lanier 1996, the committee that championed hosting the Summer Olympics canoe, kayak and rowing events at the lake. They worked with Jim Mathis, the foundation’s first president and CEO.
“My first impression of Phillip was that he was incredibly hilarious,” Blackstock said. “And he had a real gift for wrapping up a situation so cleverly, putting it into just the right words.”
When Blackstock considered starting the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, Sartain was one of the first people she turned to. “He was a founding member of my board and worked in every capacity in the six years he served,” she said. “Phillip was always so supportive; I knew he had my back, even when he got that poker-face look. I could see that sparkle in his eyes.”
She relayed a story about Sartain showing up for the first Empty Bowl fundraiser for the food bank. “It was pouring down rain and here he came, with all the food from the restaurants,” she said. “He was dressed in a yellow raincoat and was soaking wet. He was always so determined and committed.”
Several years ago, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank presented Sartain with the “Mike Banks Reflections of the Heart” award, at the September 2017 Empty Bowl Lunch.
“This award is given to an individual who, like Mike Banks, gave heart and soul to his faith, family, friends and causes related to helping others,” Blackstock said. “My dear friend, Jim Mathis, gave the introduction and announced Phillip as the recipient. Phillip’s daughter attended and presented the award to her dad.”
All three – Wilson, Hayes and Blackstock – had nothing but praise for Sartain. “He was genuine, down to earth and passionate about everything he did,” Wilson said.
“I had total respect for Phillip’s intelligence, commitment and devotion to this community,” Hayes said.
“I lost a true friend,” Blackstock said. “He was a joy to know and my life was so enhanced by having him in it. He is already sorely missed by this community and the people who knew and loved him. He made wherever he was a better place.”