Carter County said farewell to a remarkable political leader last week.
Sara Sellers was a woman who was extremely active in the Republican Party at the county, state and national levels. But her service was truly a sacrifice, as she found ways to help those in need, veterans and women in the military.
She was born 87 years ago as Sara Whitehead into a family with deep roots in the region and a tradition of military service. Her father was Carson Hamilton Whitehead, police chief of Old Butler. He had a large family and Sara was the youngest child. In fact, she was proud to be the daughter of a veteran of the Spanish-American War.
Her father had also been assigned to serve on the honor guard for President William McKinley’s funeral in Ohio after his assassination.
The family left Old Butler with the rest of the populace when Watauga Lake drowned the town after World War II. The Whiteheads moved to Happy Valley, where Sara attended high school. After graduation, she followed her older brother Bud into the Air Force. It would be a job she would keep for 30 years, finding her husband and soulmate Mike Sellers. Both husband and wife would rise to the rank of senior master sergeant.
After retiring from the military, Sara returned to her roots, with Mike accompanying her. For the rest of his life, Mike would be just as much an East Tennessean as his wife. He served with the Carter County Sheriff’s Department and both were dedicated members of the Old Butler Museum.
Carter County Commissioner Charles Von Cannon, who represents the district where the Sellers had their retirement home said “they were the most generous people. Whenever there was a need, they always gave joyfully; when they were not asked to give, they sought out who was leading the effort and made a donation.”
Sara also became involved in Republican politics at county and state level, eventually becoming a member of the state Republican Executive Committee.
Former Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe served 16 years with Sellers on the state Republican Executive Committee. He said she “exemplified public and community service,” and noted “nobody loved the Republican Party more than Sara Sellers.”
Wolfe recalled Sellers as “having an extraordinary heart for service,” and for being a role model to him and others across the state.
“She was a natural storyteller, and her stories always revolved around helping others,” he said.
For many years, Sellers was the speaker at the Carter County United Veterans Council’s Veterans Day programs. This was a unique program because its intended audience was not the veterans who typically attended the annual event on Veterans Day.
The United Veterans Council wanted to present the program inside the gymnasiums of the five high schools in Carter County and Elizabethton. The program would rotate between the schools each year, so that every student could see the program once during their academic career. Sellers always presented the speech and emphasized that the students owed the freedom and liberty they enjoyed to veterans.
Sellers was also active in promoting the creation of the Elizabethton/Carter County Veterans War Memorial and the Veterans Walk of Honor in downtown Elizabethton.
Sellers also became active at the national level, being invited by the president to national Republican events and was appointed to serve on national organizations. She was appointed to the Department of Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service.
She also served as a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission, which maintains the overseas cemeteries where servicemen are buried. Sellers made it a point to inspect all of these far-flung cemeteries during her tenure.
Sellers also worked as a volunteer for President George H.W. Bush’s Thousand Points of Light program. She traveled to events across the county where she pitched in to improve neighborhoods and other acts of charity.
Local Republicans recently provided her with a permanent honor. “I was proud to be one of the supporters in the state legislature to sponsor naming the state bridge at Sinking Creek after Mike and Sara Sellers,” said Sen. Rusty Crowe. “She was a remarkable woman.”