Whenever the mood struck her, Sandy Lakin would turn on music and transform her suburban Richmond living room into a private disco. Whether she was alone or had only her two young children as partners, the sheer joy of moving to the rhythm always made Sandy smile. Along with earning her the family nickname “Sandy Boogie,” this spontaneous choreography characterizes a life lived to its fullest, even when it took unexpected turns. The youngest of four children in a West Virginia coal mining family, Sandra Leigh Morgan was 5 years old when her dad passed up a promotion in order to seek a better life elsewhere. Initially bound for Florida, the family got only as far as Fredricksburg, Va. What began as a short visit with her uncle’s family turned into a job opportunity her father couldn’t pass up, repairing cars at a nearby military base. Regular family visits to West Virginia kept Sandy connected with her beloved country roots. She and her cousins could ramble anywhere they pleased, provided they stayed clear of her grandfather’s whiskey still. A self-described “goody two-shoes,” Sandy’s rebellious streak would occasionally emerge, such as when she lit up her first cigarette at age 9 or used sleepovers at friends’ houses as a ruse for going out on secret double-dates.
Sandy was particularly close to her father, Robert Morgan, paying close attention as he fixed private cars for extra money. When he announced he wanted to take her mother,Elizabeth Ann Reed Morgan, on a long-overdue fancy date, “Sandy Boogie” was all too happy to teach him some slick dance steps. After high school, Sandy was off to Richmond to study accounting at Virginia Commonwealth University. Eager to finish her self-financed education as quickly as possible, she persuaded school officials to let her take an unusually heavy course load. Despite all the studying and schoolwork, on top of several part-time jobs, Sandy earned her degree in just two and a half years, with a near-perfect grade point average. Occasional outings to Richmond’s dance clubs led Sandy to meet Tom Lakin, whom she would date for four years. The relationship had its ups and downs, however, and Sandy had no qualms about leaving him behind when her new job with the Internal Revenue Service called for a move to Miami — a fresh start that would also fulfill her family’s earlier relocation dream. Sandy found the Florida lifestyle as fascinating as her job, which included audits and investigations of suspicious business deals. She also rekindled her romance with Tom. They married, had a daughter, Jennifer, and moved back to Richmond where she continued her IRS career. But those original relationship strains proved too difficult to overcome. A year after son Matt was born, the couple divorced. Going solo with two young children wasn’t easy, but Sandy was hardly helpless. Those long-ago lessons from watching her father came in handy, as she could handle routine car maintenance and other household repairs with ease.
“We did things as a family unit,” Jennifer recalls. “We took turns cooking meals and rotating daily responsibilities. That made us unique from our friends.” Sandy would also treat her children to spontaneous vacations, setting off for destinations from the North Carolina beaches to the Grand Canyon. “Often, she’d hand us guidebooks and let us choose what to see, and where to stay,” Matt says. “We weren’t entirely co-equals, but she let us have a say in decisions.” Those travels became more exotic as the children got older, particularly after Matt relocated to Southeast Asia for a job. He laughs at the memory of his mother’s unsteady ride aboard a donkey in Bhutan. Asked how she was getting along, he recalls Sandy replying, “It’s not what I would have chosen, but I’m just glad we’re together.”
When Sandy began having cognitive issues in 2010, it was the children’s turn to surprise their mother with a 2-week trip to Russia, a place she’d long dreamed of visiting. “She was as giddy as a child as we walked the few blocks from our Moscow hotel to Red Square,” Jennifer says. “She couldn’t believe she was finally there.” Sandy was equally captivated by Elvis Presley, whom she once saw perform in Richmond. Even in her final years, if Sandy heard his music, she would perk up and start tapping her foot, still “Sandy Boogie” as always.