I wrote briefly about Old Sam, Laurence Sams, the “can man” of Tate Street in Greensboro NC recently. I found my copy of the article written by Jim Schlosser of the Greensboro News & Record and together with the article and my many memories of Old Sam, decided to write more about him. Thousands of students at UNCG and many others encountered Old Sam at Tate Street Coffee or hanging out along Tate Street or just driving by. Sams could be seen from early in the morning to early evening collecting cans and walking continuously in the area. Sams did not need a weight loss program. Many a morning I would arrive at Tate Street Coffee Shop and be seated at the coveted front window seat. Old Sam would often arrive by 7:30 and look up at me and almost always comment about the weather. He was a man of few words, but sometimes he would pause for a few seconds and converse. What impressed me about Old Sam was not the talk but how he kept on keeping on in all kinds of weather, from extreme heat to cold. His perseverance was inspiring. There are a lot of UNCG (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) graduates out there and I am sure there are many memories of Old Sam with you. However, most of you do not know the rest of the story.
Old Sam, Laurence Sams, grew up on a farm near Danville Virginia. He served in the army and worked for a lumber company. He collected cans when he had a job and continued when the company shut down. He attended First Baptist Church on Friendly Avenue and many Sunday mornings I would see him walking there. Sams lived simply and owned no car. Debra Craig bought the old house with apartments in 1985 that Sams lived in. She sold the house in 2000 but with the stipulation that he have a lifetime right to live there. She would bring him takeout meals from time to time. David Taylor, another fine human being, gave Sams a coat and kept an eye on him.
Old Sam was found dead by another good person, Bob Beerman, who helped him. Sams had the flu and Bob came to remind him of a doctor’s appointment. Beerman found Sams sprawled on the floor. Sams was 79. He had looked weaker in recent months.
Many lives were touched by this simple man. I can still remember that unpretentious grin. Many people thought that he was poor because he lived simply, but he left an estate. However, his biggest legacy is the lives he touched and the example of perseverance that he gave us.
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