Under pressure from Sam, I did things I had never done before. He constantly encouraged me to attend football games at the club. He kept me up to speed on news in the North Tulsa neighborhood where the club is located, especially news that affected the club kids. Sam expanded my world and increased my confidence in reporting and photographing subjects that were as unfamiliar to me as a foreign country. I was honored when Sam and Jerome Smith asked me to a Juneteenth Celebration awards ceremony where Tulsa music icon Leon Rollerson honored the two men. Leon said Sam was one of the few gospel singers left in Tulsa who was passing the music tradition to the next generation. In the above photo of Sam's gospel group, "Proverbs," Sam is on the right. Also above, he appeared on the Cox channel's "Sports Night."
The two things I loved most about Sam are his compassion and his voice. In 2009, Sam persuaded TU into giving the Red Shield kids a rare treat: they got to be on the football field when the Hurricane did their run on. Sam talked me into photographing it, although it was pouring rain. To shoot the kids’ reactions, I stood in the middle of the roped area where the players come out (photo above). Over the rain and the yelling fans, I heard my name and recognized Sam’s deep bass voice. “Go Sallie go,” he said several times, and then the Red Shield kids joined him in the chant. “GO Sallie GO!” became louder and louder and must have mystified the onlookers. I loved it and I owe the wonderful memory to Sam. Just last year, along with many others, I got to enjoy hearing Sam’s impressive voice when he sang gospel music at Mabee Red Shield’s Fun Day.
In March of 2010, I caught pneumonia and missed three weeks of work. When I came back to work my energy level was way down. Sam took one look at me and said “You need to go home and rest and not come back to work until you’re well.” He said it with such kindness. After that, we asked about each other’s health every time we met. I knew Sam had an illness. I knew he had been in the hospital several times this year, but for very short stays. Whenever he’d talk about his health, he’d end it by saying “But God is good, Sallie, God is good.”
I was shocked when I learned of his death yesterday. Like many people, I’m sure, I wish I could have said goodbye and told him how important his friendship was to me and thanked him for it. Sam enriched my life in ways he never knew just by being himself and loving the kids and athletics at the Mabee Red Shield Club. He touched so many lives. The Salvation Army, all of the kids at Mabee Red Shield, countless others and I will miss Sam dearly.
P.S. If you would like to honor Sam by sharing a special memory of him with others, please enter it in comments.