Sandra Deal and Gov. Nathan Deal pose by an official portrait unveiled at the Georgia Capitol. AJC/Greg Bluestein

A Deal portrait steeped with symbolism unveiled at emotional ceremony 

‘I don’t know what they’re going to name after me, but please don’t let it be a prison.’ 

Gov. Nathan Deal wanted his official portrait to symbolize his most cherished moments over two terms in the state’s top office. And on Thursday, he unveiled a painting by artist Thomas Nash steeped with symbolism from his political career.

Featured prominently in one corner of the portrait are the scales of justice, reflecting his criminal justice overhaul. There’s a towering crane in the background to signify the construction of a new judicial complex that will soon bear his name.

The books and an apple invoke the work by his wife Sandra, standing by his side, in visiting more than 1,000 schools over the last eight years. 

And two figures on the bookshelf symbolize parts of Georgia’s economy: A camera-shaped bookend for the surging film industry and a replica car for the growing auto business. 

“I am the most mindful of this than any of you in the audience: This is not something that I did,” said Deal, in one of his last public events as governor, to hundreds of politicians, officials and others gathered at the Gold Dome.  

“By and large, all of the things this portrait symbolizes are things that many of you have had a very important hand in. You’re a part of this portrait. And you’re a part of it in more ways than you’ll ever know.”

It was the cap to an emotional ceremony that featured his longtime political ally, House Speaker David Ralston, and his top aide Chris Riley, who has worked for Deal for more than half his life. 

Ralston emphasized the ties between the governor’s office and the House, forged over years of mutual respect and a close working relationship. 

“To put it succinctly,” Ralston said, “Georgia is better because of Sandra and Nathan Deal.” 

Riley dug deep in his personal archives to read a trio of events from journals depicting the governor’s early days in office. 

The first was a Jan. 10, 2012 entry written shortly after Deal’s second State of the State speech focused on Sandra: “She still thinks I do not tell her everything, but I am so very proud of Sandra. What a classy and professional lady. She has the ability to see past the surface and directly into your heart.”

The second, in March 2015, Riley invoked a passage from Proverbs to describe the governor’s mindset: “Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.”

And the third, in November 2015, offered a glimpse at Deal’s approach to business recruitment. He and Riley were at the Dubai Air Show, where they met with a wealthy sheikh who owned an airline looking to expand to Georgia. 

The sheikh, whom Riley did not name, opened the meeting in a makeshift office by lighting a cigarette, taking his shoes off and berating a staff member. 

“I wanted to exit the room immediately,” Riley said. “The governor didn’t miss a beat: He looked right at him and said, ‘What about those jobs in Georgia? Are you going to expand?’”

As he finished his remarks, Riley turned to Deal, his voice straining with emotion. 

“I look forward to bringing my grandchildren here, explaining this portrait, and explaining what we did,” said Riley, fighting back tears. 

Then came Deal, who thanked the crowd multiple times before adding his own lighthearted request to the politicos on hand: 

“I don’t know what they’re going to name after me, but please don’t let it be a prison.”

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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