A pillar of the community

Published 9:49 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2015

State BOE 59

Griffin Jr., center, was sworn into office at the Georgia State Board of Education.

If you ever met Sam Griffin once, he knew you.

He remembered everyone he met.

His personality was larger than life. With a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, he could always find something in common with you.

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That’s what made him such a close friend, a loyal boss and a pillar in the Bainbridge community.

Griffin passed away at 79 years old Monday afternoon. Cancer took him after a long, hard fight.

His legacy will always be remembered in Bainbridge history, and the stories he told during his 46-year tenure as a journalist have touched the lives of many.

“The storytelling in heaven just got a little better,” DuBose Porter of the Courier Herald in Dublin said. “Georgia newspapers have lost one of their best friends. Sam loved his community, the newspaper industry and what it could be for a community, and he loved Georgia.”

Griffin was born Feb. 12, 1936, in Bainbridge. His father, Marvin, was the editor of The Post-Searchlight at the time, and later went on to serve as state Adjutant General, Lieutenant Governor and Georgia’s 72nd Governor. Marvin’s father, E.H. “Pat” Griffin,” was the newspaper’s founder. Right there from the beginning, newspapers were part of Griffin’s life.

Bainbridge resident Clayton Penhallegan and Griffin have been friends for seven decades since serving in the Cub Scouts together in 1946 when Clayton first moved to Bainbridge.

“We lived across the street from each other, and he was truly my best friend forever,” said Penhallegan. “We shared life together and understood each other in a unique way.”

He recalled how Griffin’s mother and whole family took him under their wings after Clayton’s mother died.

“His family was my family and vice versa,” he said. “We both loved to sing, and we shared everything. He is one of two people in my life I would go to Mexico to get him out of jail.”

Griffin graduated from high school in 1954 and headed to Atlanta to become a Yellow Jacket at Georgia Tech on a Navy Regular scholarship. He and Penhallegan played sports together, roomed together at Georgia Tech, were members of the same fraternity and dated some of the same girls.

When he graduated four years later, he was commissioned an Ensign and entered active duty in the Navy the same day. Penhallegan did as well.

Griffin served temporary duty in the Amphibious Forces, Atlantic, prior to attending Navy training and participated in the amphibious landings at Beirut. He attended Naval Flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator and Naval Helicopter Pilot, serving in helicopter antisubmarine squadrons One and Three, aboard USS Valley Forge, USS Intrepid and USS Wasp. He participated in the 1962 Cuban Blockade.

He resigned from the Navy in 1963 and shortly after returned to Bainbridge. He picked up the torch handed off by his father and joined The Post-Searchlight. The fire that was lit by his grandfather would continue to burn under the Griffin name.

Dr. Jack Leverett became friends with Griffin when he and his wife, Joyce, moved to Bainbridge in 1965. The Leveretts saw Sam and wife Mary Ann socially, and he and Sam used to go duck and quail hunting together at Jack Wingate’s Lodge on Lake Seminole.

“We were just good friends through the years,” he Leverett said.

He recalled that Griffin was on the original board that organized the First Port City Bank.

“He was a jolly fellow and a great storyteller who never met a stranger. Therefore he knew a lot of people throughout the state,” Leverett said.

Linda and Phil Todaro also shared a close friendship with Sam and Mary Ann. The Griffins were the first ones they met when they moved to Bainbridge 42 years ago.

“We have so many memories,” Linda said. “Our travels together to places near and far, shared holidays, so many stories that we told over and over again and all the shared laughter. He jumped into our hearts, never left and never will.”

Though he made plenty of friends in Bainbridge, his personality and smile stretched throughout Georgia. Even on a professional level, other newspaper publishers became close to Griffin.

Terry Toole, publisher of the Miller County Liberal, and Griffin became acquainted through a business arrangement when The Post-Searchlight began printing the Liberal. He said they became friends over the years as they learned the newspaper business together.

Toole paid tribute to Griffin in this week’s Liberal.

“Sam, to my surprise, sold The Post-Searchlight several years ago,” Toole wrote. “He loved that newspaper, and was one of the best in the business. I figured he might want to get in politics. He would have made a great governor or president if he had run. He was smart, honest and Southern.

“He called me a few weeks back to talk about a column I wrote about a cousin telling me I might not make it to 80. Sam and I are the same age: 79. I made a deal that if he would make it to 80, I would try to break the male Toole curse, and make it to 80, too. He didn’t keep his end of our agreement…….I missed the last gathering of some of my old friends at a fish fry at Sam’s. I know they have fish fries in Heaven. …….Maybe I’ll see you there Sam, but not before I keep my end of our agreement. RIP old friend!”

Robert Turner is currently the editor and publisher of The County Record in Blountstown, Florida. But in the summer of 1971, Griffin gave him a job in the advertising department of The Post-Searchlight. He said if all the typesetting machines and the press were working right, it was a lot of fun working at The Post-Searchlight in the early 1970s. He remembers Griffin was quick to praise good effort and he didn’t shy from scolding you if he felt you were slacking a little.

When Griffin and others purchased The Havana Herald and The County Record, he asked Robert to move to Blountstown and run the paper.

“He was always there for me if I needed guidance or help of any kind,” Turner said. I’ve been in Blountstown since 1975 and bought the paper from Sam and his co-owners in 1982. He gave me an opportunity I’ve always been grateful for. He was truly a dear friend.”

Billy Fleming, publisher of the Early County News, began his newspaper career next to Griffin at The Post-Searchlight, where he served as a mentor under Marvin.

Fleming said Griffin’s passing has caused a rush of memories along with names and faces from The Post-Searchlight over the years.

“Sam Griffin, through his character and actions and through his newspaper, impacted more people’s lives every day of the year than many people do in their lifetime,” Fleming said.

Throughout his four-and-a-half-decade long career as a journalist, Griffin served as the president of the Georgia Press Association and president of National Newspaper Association.

Griffin’s funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at the First Presbyterian Church with Dr. Gerald A. Little officiating. Interment will follow at Oak City Cemetery with Paschal Ward, Ernie Purcell, Gerard Kwilecki, Clayton Penhallegon, Terry Toole, Steve Poitevint, Keith Newberry, Kinson Cook and Ted Mauldin, Vance Custer, Jack Leverett, John Dowdy, Nick Bert, Billy Fleming, Jim Griffin, Eddie Dodd, Wallace Cato and David Maxwell serving as pallbearers.