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Ferrol Sams


By Kathy Pillatzki
Assistant Director
Henry County Library System

  Georgia, the South, and the literary world lost a rare gem last week. Dr. Ferrol Sams passed away at age 90, essentially of old age, or what his son described to the Atlanta Journal Constitution as being “slap-clean wore out.”

Ferrol Sam’s inscription in a copy of Run With the Horse-men that was donated to the Governor’s Mansion.        Special photo

  Dr. Sams, a native of Fayette County, was a graduate of Mercer and Emory Universities and quietly practiced medicine in Fayetteville for decades. He shot to national prominence in 1982 with the publication of his first book, Run with the Horsemen, a novel loosely based on people and events from his childhood in rural Georgia during the Great Depression.

  Dr. Sams followed up on his success with two sequels, The Whisper of the River in 1984 and When All the World Was Young in 1991. Another novel, Down Town was published in 2007, and he authored several short story collections, including The Widow’s Mite and Epiphany.

  I have a special admiration for people who can write short stories. The challenge of developing characters, settings and an entire story arc in just a few pages is daunting, and anyone who can pull it off deserves a tip of the hat. The title story in The Widow’s Mite, in which a young bride of only one year must decide what to do with her husband’s life insurance money amid pressure from family and community, is a fine example of the art form.

  Sams also published Christmas Gift! in 1991 and provided the text for a 1988 photo-essay by Jim Harrison titled The Passing: Perspectives of Rural America.

  It was Run with the Horsemen, however, that remained his best-known and most enduring work. I remember that although it was published to wide acclaim, quite a few Fayette County residents were less than pleased. They thought he was “telling tales” that would be better kept among family, or at least the local community. Some of the eccentric characters in the book were said to be thinly-disguised versions of real people.

  Speculating on which characters represented real Fayette County residents became an armchair sport for a time. As my friend Rachel, whose father was a long-time area resident, put it, “He made a lot of locals madder than a wet hen! Daddy knew exactly who everyone in that book was!” Sams was not deterred by his critics, though, and continued to write his own stories in his own style for the rest of his career.

  Last summer I was part of a team of librarians who inventoried and cataloged the books in the Georgia Governor’s Mansion. The mansion houses a fine collection of books about Georgia and by Georgia authors, many of whom left interesting and amusing inscriptions in their works. My hands-down favorite was in a copy of Run with the Horsemen, which Dr. Sams donated to the mansion library with this inscription: “To my fellow Georgians with love - If you will forgive me - I'll return the favor - Ferrol Sams.” That’s probably the closest any of the offended parties ever got to an apology!

  Some of Ferrol Sams’ books are out of print, but they are available through Henry County Library System. Check with your nearest branch for availability.



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