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NC A&T professor. Inventor. Author. This 'renaissance woman' was many things.

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GREENSBORO — She earned a nickname later in life as “the lady who ran out of product.”

Sandra Carlton-Alexander, frustrated with trying to replicate the lighted tree balls around Sunset Hills during the holidays, came up with a kit made of plastic, which was easier to work with than the chicken wire normally used to create the city’s iconic Christmas decoration.

Sandra Alexander holds her invention, Holiday Light Ball Kit, at Core Technology Molding Corp. in Greensboro in 2019. She was inspired to make…

It was a novel idea. But then, Alexander was a novel person.

There was a line of people trying to get their hands on one of Alexander’s tree balls when she ran out at a holiday market in 2019.

Alexander died June 10 at age 74 after spending 30 years as an educator. She retired from N.C. A&T, her alma mater, in 2003.

But really, A&T’s Class of 1969 valedictorian was a renaissance woman: professor, inventor, author, businesswoman, entrepreneur, local politician — who battled cancer along the way. Also wife to businessman Rondal Alexander and mother to Tonya and Derrick.

“That’s a good word for her — renaissance woman,” Tonya Alexander said of her mother.

Sandra was a participant in Impact Greensboro and member of the board of trustees for Triad Stage.

Her first post-retirement venture was a scenic tours business that had an educational theme. Alexander had actors portray historic scenes or monologues from Greensboro natives who were significant to the city’s history as a way of educating the young and old.

Growing up on a farm in eastern North Carolina, she came to Greensboro to attend A&T.

She told the News & Record in 1992 it was an exciting time to come of age. She thought her generation would be able to reach for the sky and not denied like those who came before her.

She would also experience the turmoil of the times. It was during her senior year in 1969 when Alexander experienced days of riots and police on the Aggie campus.

Alexander had been a counselor in the dorm and eyewitness to history in what started as a disputed student government election at nearby Dudley High School. It ended with the National Guard’s deployment at A&T in what was then called the largest armed assault ever seen against an American college campus.

“I was in Curtis Hall when the tear gas began flying,’’ she once said.

After graduation, she earned a master’s degree in English at Harvard University and then a doctorate in English at the University of Pittsburgh.

She was later hired as an English professor at A&T, served as director of freshman advisement and eventually named co-chair of the English department. Programs she initiated became part of the campus.

As a technical writer, she helped the university earn nearly $1 million in research funding.

But Alexander loved being in the classroom.

And students loved being in her classroom.

“I took her for African American literature and she used experiences from her life to relate the work to us,” Latrecia Jones, a former student, once said to A&T’s campus newspaper. “She made you question your views and she opened up our creative sides.

“It makes me sad. I wish ‘Aggies-to-be’ could have some of the experiences that I had with Dr. Alexander.”

Meanwhile, Alexander was already writing a first novel, “Black Butterflies: Stories of the South in Transition,” a volume of short stories.

And there was more to come: “Impressions: Six Months in the Life of a Southern City” was a fictional account of four couples who are products of the civil rights movement. She described it as sort of like the movie “The Big Chill.’”

A short story — “The Last of the Sunkist Soda” — later won first prize in the NC Writers Network Fiction Competition.

“You come off the farm with some good, old American values,” Alexander once said. “Hard work. Determination. Focus. Attention to task. You set your goals and don’t stop until you get where you’re going.’’

In 1992, she had been one of two N.C. fiction writers to win a Greensboro Arts Council fellowship.

At the same time, she was involved in her community, as president of the board of directors of the Greensboro YWCA, where she started a teen mentor program.

She served on on political campaign committees.

And then she ran for office herself.

She won a seat on the Guilford County Board of Education — the first Black person to win an at-large seat — and came into the job with a list of goals, including having more students reading at their grade level and expanding technical training for students not going to college.

As it had been with her, she felt that education was the way to achieve dreams, Tonya Alexander said of her mother.

And she wanted that for other children.

“She saw a need, and that’s one thing she’s instilled in my brother and me — that when you see a need in the community you should do what you can to fill that gap,” Tonya Alexander said.

Tonya remembers when her mother had to be hospitalized right before the pandemic and that year’s launch of the Saturday Heritage Academy for middle school students at her church, Genesis Baptist. She asked Tonya to bring her laptop to the hospital. When her daughter came back, Alexander wasn’t in her bed.

“She had pulled up a chair and had the laptop on the sink in the hospital room clicking away,” Tonya Alexander recalled. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ She said, ‘I’ve got to get ready. There’s work to do.’”

The academy was designed to be a 10-week enrichment program in language arts, math and African American history.

Alexander got financial help from the church, her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and others. She contracted with teachers to oversee the language arts and math classes and had fellow church members talk to students about their heritage.

It culminated with a trip to places like Baltimore’s National Great Blacks in Wax Museum where there is a life-sized slave ship.

“That was her latest baby,” Tonya Alexander said. “She put all of her passion into teaching and building up a next generation of children who would have a thirst for knowledge.”

Alexander might not have ever known her impact on people.

Cards, especially those from former students, have left the family in tears. Good tears.

“I think she would like to be remembered,” Tonya Alexander said of her mother, “as a community servant.”

Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow

@nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.

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