Even now as I consider her life and work, I seek words that will paint a picture of who she was: daughter, sister, life-long student, teacher, friend, writer, painter, wife, mother, grandmother, lover of nature, friend to people and animals, proponent of mountain living, appreciator of family heritage and history. And even this list does not cover the multi-faceted person known as Barbara Ruth Sampson.
She was born in Louisville, Ky., on June 8, 1914, to James M. Nicholson and Flora Manard Nicholson, their second child. She had an older brother, James Frank (1911), a younger brother, George Truett (1917), and a younger sister, Flora Nelle (1922).
Her father, James M. Nicholson, was born in Union County, Ga., the eldest of eight children of Jackson Van Buren Nicholson (1836-1924) and Barbara Anne Etris Nicholson (1844-1898). Barbara's great grandparents were Alfred and Mary Chastain Nicholson, and her great, great grandfather was John Nicholson who served in the American Revolution and whose grave is in the Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Blairsville.
Family lines and genealogy fascinated Barbara Ruth Sampson. She had traced the families of Nicholson, Chastain and other lines, appreciating the contributions made by ancestral patriots and pioneers to the freedom and growth of America.
Her father met Flora Manard as both were students at Carson Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn. Both were training to be teachers. Her father, having accepted the call to preach, went to Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, Ky. It was while the family was there that Barbara was born. After teaching at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., the Nicholson family moved to Union County, Ga., where her father, Dr. James M. Nicholson, assumed the principalship of Union County High School in 1929, formerly the Blairsville Collegiate Institute. There he remained until his retirement in 1946. Mrs. Flora Nicholson taught Latin, English and Home Economics at the high school until she retired for health reasons in 1943. The three younger Nicholson children graduated from Union County High School.
Barbara, academically gifted and competitive, was valedictorian of her 1931 Union County High School class. All four Nicholson children received degrees at their parents' alma mater, Carson Newman College.
Barbara chose teaching as her career. Her early years of teaching were at Town Creek Consolidated School, Union County. In 1934 Barbara married Paul Collins, son of Andrew and Sarah Alice Davis Collins. Paul and Barbara had two daughters, Frances Nelle and Barbara Andrea. Paul was in service during World War II. Barbara's second marriage was to Harold Sampson. Their daughter is Sylvia Ruth. As Barbara traveled, she found teaching positions in several places. Her last years as an educator were as an English teacher at Hiwassee Dam High School in North Carolina until her retirement.
She loved her role as grandmother. From her elder daughter Frances Nelle came three granddaughters, Rebecca, Leah and Dabatha. Barbara Andrea has two sons, Jarrod and Ryan Freeman. Ryan is now serving with the U.S. Marines in Iraq. Sylvia Ruth has one daughter, Ashley Ruth who is a college student. As they were growing up, the grandchildren living in the Atlanta area happily spent much of their summers at their grandmother's house on Nottely Shores, Blairsville. They had delightful nature treks and she could not refrain from teaching them creatively to put words together into reflective poetry as she had done all her life.
Barbara had a gift for painting, for catching the essence of a scene, a still-life or a flower on canvas. She had the gift of words and used this gift to encourage through teaching creative writing in the classroom, in her correspondence to friends, family and acquaintances, to elucidate through essays, to craft stories and a novel (unpublished), and to write exquisite poetry. She won numerous awards for her poetry, among which was National Senior Poet Laureate for 2004.
I had the privilege of writing the review for her book of poems, Earth is a Splendid Place, published by Sparrowgrass Press, 2000. As I read and reread her book, I noted immediately how her skill with meter, rhyme, rhythm and poetic language was akin to Byron Herbert Reece's style. In my correspondence with Barbara over the years, we often exchanged ideas about Reece's poetry. Although she was three years his senior, they were contemporaries and had exchanged poems to benefit from each other's critiques and suggestions for improvement of their poetic craft. She greatly admired Reece.
With her, poetry-writing and other personal literary productions had to be relegated to being "stress busters," a catharsis, a well-loved hobby. Her life was devoted to teaching, making a living, making a home and rearing daughters. The 63 poems in her one published book are but a miniscule number of the ones from her prolific pen. She wrote me once, "Poetry writing does not pay the bills!" How well we who are writers by avocation know that truth. We could wish that all her poems could be collected and published posthumously. We would all be richer if we could read all that she has written.
She expressed a sense of concern about what would happen to her writings in this poem (page 12, Earth Is A Splendid Place):
What of All the Little WordsWhat will become of all the little wordsI've breathed into the listening air,When I am gone, long, long gone,’Till no one can hear me there?And what of all the little wordsI have entrusted to my living penTo keep my joy alive and vital,As I will not be then?Will all be gone when I am gone-No permanency - will they surely passLike apple blossoms faintly falling,Fast forgotten in the dewy grass?
My life has been enriched from the influence of her father and mother as my teachers, and in more recent years of their daughter as a dear friend and correspondent.
She wrote a quatrain and its title became the title of her published book of poems:
Earth is a Splendid PlaceHigh the sky to the edge of heaven,Bright the sun as a smiling face,Life is a treasured blessing given,And earth is a splendid place.
When I heard of her passing, I quietly reread her book of poems and then wrote this quatrain:
Transition to Heaven
Quiet the night when transition came,
Her life a rich tapestry woven
Was folded and labeled with her name
As she gently slipped into heaven.
Goodbye, dear Barbara Ruth. Though wheelchair bound, your mind knew no bounds of high and noble thoughts. We will miss you, your words, your ability to pluck thoughts from the wind and write deeply of life.
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 1, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.