The Loss of a Southern Treasure
Ferrol Sams, Doctor Turned Novelist, Dies at 90
Ferrol Sams, a country doctor who started writing fiction in his late 50s and went on to win critical praise and a devoted readership for his humorous and perceptive novels and stories that drew on his medical practice and his rural Southern roots, died on Tuesday at his home in Lafayette, Ga. He was 90.
The cause, said his son Ferrol Sams III, also a doctor, was that he was “slap wore out.”
“He lived a full life,” his son said. “He didn’t leave anything in the tank.”
Dr. Sams grew up on a farm in the rural Piedmont area of Georgia, seven mud-road miles from the nearest town. He was a boy during the Depression; books meant escape and discovery. He read “Robinson Crusoe,” then Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. One of his English professors at Mercer University, in Macon, suggested he consider a career in writing, but he chose another route to examining the human condition: medical school.
When he was 58 — after he had served in World War II, started a medical practice with his wife, raised his four children and stopped devoting so much of his mornings to preparing lessons for Sunday school at the Methodist church — he began writing “Run With the Horsemen” a novel based on his youth. It was published in 1982.
“In the beginning was the land,” the book begins. “Shortly thereafter was the father.”
In The New York Times Book Review, the novelist Robert Miner wrote, “Mr. Sams’s approach to his hero’s experiences is nicely signaled in these two opening sentences.”
He added: “I couldn’t help associating the gentility, good-humored common sense and pace of this novel with my image of a country doctor spinning yarns. The writing is elegant, reflective and amused. Mr. Sams is a storyteller sure of his audience, in no particular hurry, and gifted with perfect timing.”
Dr. Sams modeled the lead character in “Run With the Horsemen,” Porter Osborne Jr., on himself, and featured him in two more novels, “The Whisper of the River” and “When All the World Was Young,” which followed him into World War II.
Dr. Sams also wrote thinly disguised stories about his life as a physician. In “Epiphany,” he captures the friendship that develops between a literary-minded doctor frustrated by bureaucracy and a patient angry over past racism and injustice.
Ferrol Sams Jr. was born Sept. 26, 1922, in Woolsey, Ga. He received a bachelor’s degree from Mercer in 1942 and his medical degree from Emory University in 1949. In his addition to his namesake, survivors include his wife, Dr. Helen Fletcher Sams; his sons Jim and Fletcher; a daughter, Ellen Nichol; eight grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
Some critics tired of what they called the “folksiness” in Dr. Sams’s books. But he did not write for the critics, he said. In an interview with the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, Dr. Sams was asked what audience he wrote for. Himself, he said.
“If you lose your sense of awe, or if you lose your sense of the ridiculous, you’ve fallen into a terrible pit,” he added. “The only thing that’s worse is never to have had either.”
by William Yardley from The New York Times Feb 1, 2013.