Together forever

Sanford and Barbara Orkin, together for 66 years, have built a lifelong love through family, humor and generosity

Doug Monroe (ABJ ’69) | Nov. 20, 2019


As dignitaries gathered beneath a giant white tent pitched across the Coca-Cola Plaza on a sweltering September morning, a big smile crossed Sanford Orkin’s face as he thought, “I used to sleep here.”

In fact, he did, as a UGA student, when he lived for a year in the old Tau Epsilon Phi house near the intersection of Lumpkin and Baxter streets. The TEP House, long known for hosting one of the university’s most famous spring parties, “Shipwreck,” was demolished in 2009 to help make way for the Terry College Business Learning Community. A new, bigger TEP house now stands on Greek Plaza Circle, off River Road. 

Orkin was relishing the irony that he once lived on the site of the new Sanford and Barbara Orkin Hall, one of the two buildings dedicated to complete construction of the third and final phase of the Business Learning Community. Also honored that day were Doug and Kay Ivester for their generosity in funding Ivester Hall. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and UGA President Jere W. Morehead delivered remarks thanking both couples.

Sanford and Barbara Orkin Hall honors the couple’s longstanding generosity to UGA, which includes a $5 million gift to the Terry College, a $1 million gift to fund scholarships for needy students, funding a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar position in the Center for Tropical and Emerging Diseases, plus support for the School of Law, the College of Education, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the College of Public Health, UGA athletics and other initiatives. The Georgia Museum of Art honors the couple’s philanthropy and devotion to the arts with the Sanford and Barbara Orkin Gallery. Sanford also served as a trustee of the UGA Foundation and UGA Real Estate Foundation and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from UGA during the fall undergraduate ceremony.

The new four-story hall includes two auditoriums, four undergraduate classrooms, a behavioral lab, a computer lab for marketing research, six team rooms, nine interview rooms and the offices for Terry’s Undergraduate Student Services.

Just weeks before the dedication, Sanford, 88, celebrated his 66th wedding anniversary with his wife and high-school sweetheart, Barbara. As always, they were surrounded by family.

“He’s not hard to be married to,” Barbara said later during an interview in their stunning, art-filled penthouse atop a Buckhead condominium with a sweeping 360-degree view of the Atlanta skyline. Sanford quickly agreed. “She’s not hard to be married to, either.” They both laughed, as they often do, displaying the humor that has been a key ingredient in their long and happy marriage, which produced four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Barbara was surrounded by her family when she passed away on Nov. 15. She was 85.

At the dedication ceremony for the hall, Terry College Dean Ben Ayers enjoyed telling the story about how Barbara lived in Myers dorm when she was a student at Georgia, which prompted Sanford’s strategic move from the TEP House to the Lyons Apartments directly across the street from Myers.

“Sanford would call Barbara on the phone in the afternoon to take her food order for the Varsity, and then he would toss it up to her window at Myers,” Ayers said.

She caught the box, which usually contained a hamburger and fries, and went on to win election as president of Myers dorm.

The couple met when Sanford was 15 and Barbara 13. He was a star 135-pound running back for Druid Hills High School known as “Mighty Mite.” He bore one of the best-known names in Atlanta as his father built the giant pest-control company with relentless advertising. The Orkin family lived on Lullwater Road, one of Atlanta’s most beautiful streets. Barbara went to Grady High School and didn’t get to see him play.

“I was too busy playing basketball with my sorority club,” said Barbara, who moved to Atlanta the year before from Thomaston, where her father owned and operated The Leader, a successful dry goods store. She worked in the store, selling clothes, before their move.

Both teens enjoyed the Mayfair Club, a popular Jewish club on Spring Street. But they first met on a double date — when each of them was with someone else. Sanford fell for her right away and they started dating.

At UGA, Sanford got a Chevrolet in his sophomore year — freshmen weren’t allowed to have cars — and kept driving back to Atlanta to work in his father’s business. The more he got involved in the business, the sooner he wanted to marry Barbara. He went about it the old-fashioned way, by asking her father for her hand.

“When I made up my mind I wanted to marry her, I checked with her father, who was a wonderful person. He said, ‘it’s very nice of you to do that and I’m all for it’ – words to that effect,” Sanford recalled. “He said ‘go for it!’”

“His sister picked out the engagement ring for him,” Barbara added, noting that she made a good choice. Sanford kept his proposal plain-spoken. “I said, ‘Will you marry me?’” Barbara said yes. They were married on August 16, 1953.

On the same day, Sanford received his draft notice — “It was awful!” Barbara recalled — and he entered the Army just weeks after the Korean War ended. He was stationed at Fort Jackson, S.C., and was assigned to a personnel position, which kept him in the states. Barbara moved to Columbia, S.C., to be with him.

When his two-year Army commitment was up, Sanford and Barbara moved back to Atlanta. After they had the first of their children, they moved to a house on Peachtree Battle Avenue and later into a bigger house near the western end of West Paces Ferry Road. They lived there until they moved to the Buckhead condo 23 years ago.

After the Army, Sanford began working full time with the family business, introducing modern accounting and financial methods. The changes led to personnel changes which were made to continuously improve the operations.

After joining the company, Sanford was named president as he and other family members modernized the business. “We went out and got professional people who were educated in their fields, whether it was advertising or accounting,” Sanford said.

As the children in the third generation of the Orkin family began to grow older, the family looked around and saw some family businesses failing under new generations.

“We saw too many family businesses go not very well,” Sanford recalled. “So, we decided to sell.”

Among potential buyers was Pierre S. DuPont III, then a top executive at his family’s giant chemical company. Sanford led a group to Delaware to discuss a possible sale and still laughs at the formality of the meeting, which bordered on an audience with a French monarch.

“We were told, ‘Gentlemen, please stand when Pierre S. DuPont enters the room,’” Sanford recalled with a smile. Also present were representatives of the Philip Morris tobacco company and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Instead, Orkin was bought in 1964 by the relatively small Rollins Inc. for $64 million in what is believed to be the first leveraged buyout in America. The purchase price — worth approximately $500 million in today’s dollars — was seven times larger than Rollins’ revenue at the time. Rollins, which started in broadcasting and car dealerships, raised much of the buyout money from the companies that gathered for the Delaware meeting, Sanford said.

He did not retain any Rollins shares and, instead, invested his portion of the sale in equities and real estate. One of his bigger real estate deals was buying the so-called IBM tract in Athens, where the computer giant once considered building a plant and selling a portion of it to Caterpillar for its plant that manufactures small track-type tractors and mini-hydraulic excavators.

But the main focus of his life since the sale has been his marriage and family. He and Barbara attended PTA meetings, watched tennis matches and made generous donations to Pace Academy, which three of their children attended.

And they never lost their taste for the Varsity. Sanford would often meet his late brother Billy for lunch at the downtown Atlanta Varsity, where he and Barbara took their great-grandchildren just a few years ago.

The couple’s children joined Sanford at the dedication of the new hall on Sept. 6. Barbara was unable to make the trip, but was there in spirit. Sanford surveyed a lifetime of generosity and service to the university he loved.

“It’s really warming to me that Terry College is going to be where I lived,” he said.