Farewell to Dr. Sams

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

My doctor and friend passed away this week.  Dr. Ferrol “Sambo” Sams Jr – medical doctor, author, and great human being – died Tuesday at the age of 90 from what his son Dr. Ferrol Sams III described to the Atlanta Journal Constitution as a condition known as “being slap-clean wore out”.  Given his accomplishments and who he was throughout his life, it’s a condition he earned in the best of ways.

Most who know of Dr. Sams know him as an author.  He published his first book, Run With The Horsemen in 1982.  That year I was in Jr. High School and read with interest the story of Porter Osborn Jr. as a boy moving through adolescence in a small southern town a lot like mine. 

And, of course, this was no accident, as it was my hometown with a very thin veneer of disguise.  There were also a few decades separating the Fayetteville I knew from Porter Osborn’s version.  The characters were all also thinly veiled people who had grown up with Sams, which made figuring out exactly who was whom a brief local pastime.

Sams was 60 when his first book was published, also adding to the fact that it is never too old to do what you want to do, even if it is an entirely different career.  He continued to practice medicine at the Sams Clinic after becoming a best-selling author, because that was just who he was.

Dr. Sams wasn’t our first family doctor.  That would have been Dr. Morris of Fairburn.  I grew up in the community of Fife, which straddled the county line of Fayette and Fulton.  While dad had moved to the Fayette side of that line when he married Mom and they built their house (as none of his Fulton County relatives would sell him any of their land) we continued to be a family that looked at Fairburn as home instead of Fayetteville through much of the time I was in elementary school.

Sams clinic was a known institution in Fayetteville, where it seemed everyone but us in the county received their medical treatment.  It was not until Dr. Morris passed away that we too joined Sambo, his wife Helen, sons Ferrol III and Jim, and other assorted Sams relatives over time to receive our medical care.  And when we did, it seems that is the time we became truly part of Fayette County.

That clinic grew with the county, and Dr. Sams was instrumental in bringing the county its first hospital.  That was only fitting, as he had nurtured the sick of Fayette throughout his entire life.  Because he was who he was, he was always on call.  If only a small percentage of his patients phoned him in the middle of the night as often as my family did for various ailments and emergencies, it’s likely he never slept.  He was quite charitable with his time on his way to being slap-clean worn out.

He was not a doctor that was distant from his patients, but was rather quite the center of all of our activities.  He was always kind, whether seeing him in the clinic or in my family’s hardware store.  He had great stories and jokes, and always had a question for us to show some sort of interest in our lives.

I distinctly remember one day after being in his office for one of my ever present sinus infections.  The drill was familiar, so the diagnosis was a formality.  He picked up his Dictaphone, and said “We’re going to prescribe Charlie his usual amoxicillin, as he has an infection of the sinuses….Also, could you please write on his chart that his mother makes the best sweet potato pies in all of Georgia.  That really needs to be written down somewhere.”

And then he looked up at me, gave me a wink, and told me to tell my mother hello.  I did, and he of course got a pie shortly thereafter.  That’s how the Fayetteville that I used to know, that Porter Osborn generously described, used to work.

Fayetteville is now another suburb of Atlanta, and it’s harder and harder to find the town of Porter Osborn Jr.  But for 90 years, he was a central character in every sense of the word.  His was a life lived well, and our community was immeasurably better for his stay.


  1. mountainpass says:

    Dr Sams had a mountain home nearby to me. I never met him but heard folks speak about him. I read several of his books. My favorite was ‘Epiphany: Stories ‘ mostly because of the story in it about his “problems” here in the county and his dealings with the mountain folks.

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