Sally Atwater is a native of Union, South Carolina. Her mother worked within the school system for 49 years and was the secretary to the Superintendent of Education for Union County, while her father worked in Soil Conservation for the Federal Government. Sally graduated from Union High School. In 1973, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education, and two years later received her Master’s degree in special education, both from Winthrop University.
She began her career as a special education teacher at Northside Elementary in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She proceeded to teach in South Carolina for over nine years in Rock Hill, Gilbert, and Columbia.
Sally married her late husband Lee Atwater at Grace Methodist Church in Union, SC on June 24, 1978. The pair had met in 1973 in Washington, DC while Sally was interning for Senator Strom Thurmond and Lee was the executive director of the National College Republicans.
The Atwaters moved to Washington, DC in 1982 where she worked for the United States Department of Education during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. At the Department of Education, Sally worked under the Director of Special Education Programs and helped oversee the implementation of The Education of All Handicapped Children Act.
Later, Sally was appointed to the United States Department of Education’s National Advisory Board on International Education Programs, working to involve citizens in the governmental process. In 1991, Secretary Sullivan, who was serving as President George H. W. Bush’s head of the Department of Health and Human Services, appointed her to the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council at the National Institute of Health. The council advised the Institute on policy, and acted as the second review of grants for research in areas of brain tumors, Alzheimer's, AIDs, and muscular dystrophy.
In September 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Sally Atwater, Executive Director of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. The Committee made recommendations to the President and to the Secretary of Health and Human Services in order to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities in our country. She served with President Bush for two terms.
In August 2010, Sally was appointed professional staff member to the US House Education and Workforce Committee.
For the past two years, Sally has worked as a teacher at Forrest Hills Elementary and at Hendersonville Elementary in Colleton County. Sally works with disabled students ranging from first to fourth grade, teaching subjects from reading to science.
Sally is the mother of three daughters; Sara Lee, 34, a teacher, Ashley, 28, a nursing student, and Sally Theodosia, 24, who works for Teach for America in Marlboro County. In February 2014, Sally became a grandmother to Evelyn, first born of Sara Lee and her husband Dieter.