My Wife – My Friend – My Hero

Susan Sams Epling (November 18, 1967-August 26, 2018)

The Background

Susan Clara Sams Epling was born November 18, 1967, in Greenville, South Carolina, and died August 26, 2018, in Boca Raton, Florida.  She is survived by me (Bobby), her husband of thirty years; Jackson, her beloved and dear son; parents Melvin and Paulette Sams; sister and brother-in law Mary (Sams) and Ron Marsh; brother and sister-in-law Russell and Eaddy Sams; father-in-law and mother-in-law Bill and Judy Epling; sister-in-law and brother-in law Jamie (Epling) and Rodney George; nieces Natalie and Allison Marsh; nephews Parker and Bennett Sams; and countless grieving extended family members, in-laws, and friends, including her Boca Glades Baptist Church family.  She was preceded in death by her brother Stephen, and all her grandparents.

Susan grew up in the Avery community of Canton, Georgia, with deep roots in Cherokee County.

Her maternal grandfather, U.S. Army SGT Paul Newton Richardson, died over Burma on July 24, 1944, during World World II, five months to the day before his daughter Paulette – Susan’s mom – was born.  Her maternal grandmother Clara Frances (Biddy) Richardson died in 1956, more than a decade before the birth of her namesake granddaughter in 1967.  Susan knew and greatly loved her maternal great-grandparents, John and Mary (Owen) Richardson, better known as Granny and Pa, and their daughter (Susan’s great aunt) Wynelle Richardson.  Susan’s paternal grandparents were the cherished James “Bud” Sams (called Pa), and Wynelle Perkins Sams (called Ma).  Family gatherings at the home of Ma and Pa provided wonderful memories for generations of their families, and for the last several years of Ma’s life, Susan and Jackson made weekly trips to visit and take her shopping.

The Traveling Band

Susan died at age fifty, but she packed a lot of fun into those years.  Our best memories were always of the places we lived and the trips we took.  We never got to go to lavish destinations in Europe or the like (which we planned), but we saw the U.S.  Before Jackson was born, trips to big cities and academic conferences were common.  We usually drove … Boston, Chicago, D.C., New Orleans, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tampa, a children’s literature conference in western Massachusetts staying in a college dorm for a week.

A year after we married, we took a summer job traveling to small towns in east Tennessee and Kentucky to restock old Rose’s department stores … LaFollette, Middlesboro, Corbin, Somerset, London, Hazard, Morehead, Winchester, Richmond.  These were not garden spots, and we didn’t have much money, but we had so much fun.  In Hazard, Susan asked the ancient man running an ancient and rundown motel for an ice bucket.  He went into a closet and brought her an actual old metal pail and offered to empty the ice tray from his refrigerator for her.  That tickled Susan so much.

After Jackson was born, the three of us still made regular academic trips, and we started taking annual family vacations we liked to call our May Getaways.  Our travels took us to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Disney World, the Grand Tetons, Little Bighorn, Long Boat Key, Mt. Rushmore, New York City, Niagara Falls, Pike’s Peak, Salt Lake, the St. Louis Arch, and countless national parks, ballparks, presidential museums, and colleges campuses.

We traveled tens of thousands of miles together and forged close relationships as a family.

The Many Talents

Susan was blessed with many talents.  An outstanding student, she was Valedictorian of the Cherokee High class of 1985, Salutatorian of then Reinhardt College class of 1987, and a Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Georgia with an English degree; she was awarded a prestigious graduate fellowship from the University of Tennessee, where she earned her masters degree, and later a graduate assistantship at Ohio State University for doctoral studies.  Susan was a stellar basketball player at Cherokee and Reinhardt (where she also played varsity softball), an excellent bowler, an avid player of all sorts of board and card games, and later she picked up golf.  She was learning to fly fish the summer she died.  Susan collected children’s books and toys, loved cultivating flowers and gardening, and she was a terrific cook.  After her cancer diagnosis, she studied nutrition and diet, and became very health-conscious regarding what she ate.

For all her many gifts, Susan gained the most pleasure and peace from being a kind and caring Christian.

The Neighbor Lover

Susan made friends easily and often.  She told stories about classmates at Buffington Elementary and Cherokee High, and they were all nice stories, nothing negative.  She liked all her classmates, and all her old boyfriends and their families, and all her many relatives.  You get the picture.  If she had bad thoughts about anybody, she always kept them to herself.  I just don’t think Susan thought in that way; she focused on the good.

After we married, we moved often.  At every new place, Susan almost instantly made friends.  She has more best friends than anybody I’ve known.  She particularly enjoyed chatting with neighbors and making time for neighborhood children and the elderly (one of our recent neighbors is 89 years old and told me Susan was the best friend he’s ever had).

Her sociable trait led a young Jackson to utter a line that described Susan perfectly and sparked many laughs over subsequent years.  One day in Cartersville, after Susan spent the better part of an afternoon out in the yard visiting with various passersby, she finally came back into the house to find Jackson and I waiting, not very patiently, for our own time with her.  After some bickering back and forth, Jackson finally stood up and said with fierce indignation “Mom, you’re nothing but a Neighbor Lover!”  His tone was the same as if he’d called her a horse thief or something.  From then on, that was our go-to insult for Susan.  She was a neighbor lover.

The Wife, Friend, and Hero

During the last few months of her life, Susan’s health weakened and for the first time she needed help with what had typically been normal activities.  She could no longer walk the dogs.  She needed a hand to stand up, or to get in and out of a car.  Shampooing and brushing her hair became a challenge.  Since she was so independent and fit, the limitations bothered her, but true to her nature she adapted and never lost patience or her sweet disposition.

Around this time, Susan developed a ritual that always choked me up.  Often when we would go for treatments, meet new people, or even greet familiar faces, she liked to turn toward me as I was helping her and say, “he’s my husband, he’s my friend, and he’s my hero.”  Every time she said it, my eyes filled with tears because she was really describing how I felt about her.

What a privilege it was to be her husband.  She was my wife.  She was my friend.  She was my hero.

Rest in peace Susan.