Georgia lost literary icon with passing of Sams
by Mark Wallace Maguire
January 30, 2013 12:23 AM | 2519 views | 4 4 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mark Maguire
Mark Maguire
My Dad recommended for years that I read Ferrol Sams.

I didn’t.

I was — and to an extent still am — a tweedy English Major snob. At college, I focused on the evolution of the modern novel and Anglo-Irish literature. I read the big names like Cervantes, Dickens, Carlyle, Ruskin, Yeats, Eliot and Billy Shakespeare. I read the lesser-knowns like J.P. Donleavy and Patrick Kavanagh. And my senior thesis at Berry College was chock-full of 10-cent words like verisimilitude, epistemology and mimesis.

Why should I listen to my dad and read a book by a Georgia author with the curious name of Dr. Ferrol Sams?

Well, it is easy to tire of reading the “big names” in literature. The brutal realism, the 10-cent words and the, frankly, depressing plots are not exactly a salve to a troubled soul when life gives you enough struggles of your own. So about six years ago I finally picked up Sams’ novel, “When All the World Was Young.”

I was hooked.

Sams was a Southern writer — yes. And he captured the very essence of the South in his prose. But he was also something else. He was a poet in his vivid descriptions of the land and its people. He was a classic storyteller. And, most of all, he had that rare gift of combining tragedy and comedy. I always say any author can make you sad, but it takes an especially talented one to make you laugh out loud.

Sams had that gift.

Sadly, after 90 years on the planet, Sams died early Tuesday morning. He is survived by his wife Helen and several children and grandchildren.

It is sad when anyone leaves us, but Sams’ life on this planet is especially unique.

Most authors earn a reputation of being prima donnas, drama queens or high-maintenance snobs. And some of them deservingly so.

But, I think you would be hard pressed to hear anyone say that about Ferrol Sams. He won praise from national publications, was awarded various literary honors and published several best-sellers, including the popular, “Run with the Horsemen.”

But, he didn’t seal himself in an ivory tower, quit his day job or move to New York. He stayed in his home county of Fayette. He served as a doctor for more than 50 years. He lent his name and heft to dozens of worthy causes, including the Fayette Library and the Joseph Sams School, a unique school — named after his late grandson Joseph — that serves children with special needs.

And, thank God, he kept writing.

And writing.

All in all, he gave us nine books.

It is easy in the last 10 years to overlook Sams. Though the literary world has respected him (even the elite-bent New York Times dubbed his writing, “elegant, reflective and amused”) Sams and his fellow contemporary Southern scribes such as Pat Conroy and Terry Kay fell out of vogue with critics the last decade.

But his books are still there. His words are still with us. And if they can make a tweedy English Major become a fan, they might make you too.

God bless you Ferrol. Now, go run with those horsemen again. You deserve it.

Mark Wallace Maguire is director of Cobb Life magazine and Cherokee Life magazine. He can be reached at
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Rachel Powell
February 03, 2013
Dr. Ferrol Sams was my uncle. My Great Uncle, to be exact. His wife, Helen, is my Grandmother's sister. Although this status alone would tend to show a familial relationship, he was much more to me than just an Uncle. I spent Christmas with him and giant family on more than one occasion. He influenced my life profoundly, taking my mother in like his own daughter and encouraging her artistic talent. She painted countless paintings for him over the past 40 years and helped to make his house and clinics the galleries they are today.

From the time I was an infant, until this past week, he led me down the right paths. Quite literally, I remember taking long walks with him in his woods surrounding his house where he would show me the fresh flowers, live goldfish (where he created a really cool pond) and exotic plants from only he knew where (imported from far-away destinations that he visited with his beloved Helen).

He taught me to love nature, education and people. He was best friends with "Buddy", a character from both his past and his books. He crossed racial and cultural divides when it was not socially reverent to do so. As a result, he didn't tell us to love humanity, he showed us how, in his life, his medical practice and his books. He was a man far ahead of his time.

He corrected my English as a child and adult. Today I am a practicing attorney with the same love for our language (hoping there are no grammatical mistakes in this forum, of course).

We lost a great man this past week. My Uncle Sambo. I moved to Atlanta to be close to him when I made my college choice to attend Emory. I visited him as often as I could. We lost my dear Uncle Sambo this week, however, through his love and dedication to see to it personally that I walked the wiser path, I found my destination. To love others as thoroughly, profoundly and deeply as I possibly can and to enrich others as he enriched my life. Thank you Uncle Sambo- I will see you later!
SHirley Williams
January 30, 2013
Dr Sams, or Sambo as we called him, was my doctor for 30 years. I wish there was some way I could really give you a glimpse of what he was like...really. He was brilliant.. He was witty, He was gentle, he was kind. He was an amazing story teller. He was Southern to the bone. When I would sit in the little waiting area in his office and wait for him to open the door...even if I was sick, I would look forward to seeing him. He would open the door with that big smile....and often he would be humming a tune. He would begin by telling me a joke or a story. He was such a great story teller. But he also cut to the chase and called a spade a spade. He was the epitome of an old time who cared, one who remembered your name and your family. One who spent countless hours taking care of people of all races and ages back when no one else did.

One time he told me, "All I know is that God is love."....Sambo was one of a kind. Heaven is richer because he is there and we are richer because he was here....and now he's gone. The man who was so dang full of life, even in his old age, just his presence was full of life. I wish everyone could have known him and his down to earth style of speaking and doctoring his patients. Rest in peace my friend. Rest in peace.
B D Lane
January 30, 2013
I also got a degree--actually two--in English, but I'm not familiar with this guy at all. He sounds a thousand times better than The Ginger Man. I'll look him up after such a touching tribute. Thank you. And sympathies to his family.
January 30, 2013
I have read and re-read his books--full of wisdom, insight and humor. Many's the time I've elicited a doubletake and stare when a passer-by saw me laughing out loud--with tears in my eyes--sitting the breakroom all alone, at lunchtime, reading Ferrell Sams' words. I only wish he could have written a never-ending supply of his wonderful books.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides