Don W. Sands, 86: Former Gold Kist chief execuitve

In 1953, when Don W. Sands moved to Graceville, Fla., for a job with Greenwood Products Co. peanut plant, he had no idea what his future held.

The 27-year-old feared there was little room for advancement, but he “jumped at it because Greenwood was known as the largest peanut plant in the United States, maybe the world,” Sands told The Atlanta Journal Constitution in 1987.

He soon found himself headed for the top of what had become Gold Kist Inc., and was named chairman and chief executive officer 35 years later. He retired in 1991.

Don William Sands of Atlanta died Sunday, five days before his 87th birthday, from complications of dementia.

A funeral is planned for 2 p.m. Wednesday at H.M. Patterson & Son Oglethorpe Hill, which is also in charge of arrangements. A private burial will follow.

Sands, a native of Durant, Okla., got a taste of the peanut business while he was in college, said his son Stan Sands of Brookhaven. The elder Sands worked at the Durant Cotton Oil & Peanut Corp., where his father managed the company’s peanut shelling and crushing business.

Sands’ college studies began at the Oklahoma Military Academy but were interrupted by his service in the Navy during World War II. After the war he planned to spend a semester at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, studying economics and business, and then return to the military academy, Sands told an AJC reporter during the 1987 interview. But his plans changed after meeting Joan Cantrell, who was also a student at Southeastern Oklahoma.

“So I decided to stay another semester,” he said. “And then I got married.”

The Sandses had three children and were married for 52 years before she died in 2001.

Don Sands graduated from Southeastern in 1949 with a business degree and continued to work for Durant before moving to Greenwood, whose parent company was later bought by the Cotton Producers Association. Sands moved to Georgia, and to the association’s Gold Kist Peanut Growers division, in the late 1950s, and in the mid-1960s was named director of the division. By 1967, he’d taken on the pecan and soybean divisions too. In 1970 the Cotton Producers Association was renamed Gold Kist Inc., and two years later he was named the corporate vice president for marketing.

“He was very entrepreneurial and would think outside the box,” his son said. “He was a salesman at heart.”

Sands was known in the peanut industry as an innovator when it came to international trade, said Tyron Spearman, executive director of the National Peanut Buying Points Association.

“He helped us sell Georgia peanuts around the world,” Spearman said.

Known as a good motivator and generally happy person, Sands was well-liked in the company, said Gold Kist retiree Gaylord Coan.

“In addition to being a good leader, he was very conscious of the well-being of then-employees,” Coan said. “He was aggressive, but he was also kind.”

While an executive at Gold Kist, Sands also sat on boards and volunteered with more than two dozen organizations. In retirement Sands also served on the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, and was elected chairman in 1993. And even with all of that, he found time for golf, his son said.

“His primary hobby was golf,” Stan Sands said of his father. “He was president of three country clubs and a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in Scotland.”

And though Sands was an adept businessman and a notable golfer, he was an even better father, his son said.

“From a family standpoint, he was an unbelievable role model,” Stan Sands said. “He just had all of the qualities you would want a businessman and family man to have. He was rock solid.”

In addition to his son Stan Sands, Don Sands is survived by his daughter, Susan Hendrix of Alpharetta; son Steve Sands of Lilburn; sisters, Jane Partaine and Mary Patterson both of Oklahoma City, Okla.; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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