All who knew Sam, loved him. His warm smile and kindness graced family, friends, and strangers alike. He often talked of all the rich blessings of his life and had deep gratitude for a life well-lived. He grieved deeply for Mary Lou every day since her death, after 66 years of marriage, in April 2017. Their wedding anniversary is December 27. We rejoice that they are together again in their eternal love.
Sam was born on August 15, 1926 in Erie, Pennsylvania to Samuel Rankin Mason and Gertrude Graf Mason. His brother, Terry, was born in 1930. Sam, from an early age, was a disciplined and talented student and athlete. He was the captain of his high school swim team and led them to win the Erie city swim tournament every year he was in high school. He was also an accomplished tennis player and competed in the Youth US Open in high school. He graduated Salutatorian of his senior class.
Sam went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania on a Navy scholarship and majored in Biology and Psychology and swam on the college swim team. The Navy sent him on to medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. He continued to excel academically and was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.
After his third year of medical school, he went home to Erie for a few weeks. He was introduced to Mary Lou by his mother. They went for a walk on their first date. While getting to know each other, Mary Lou, an avid reader, asked Sam if he liked to read anything besides medical textbooks. He replied that he had just finished War and Peace. Sam claimed that Mary Lou stopped in her tracks and gave him a long look. He always said that he owes his marriage to his mother and Tolstoy! Sam and Mary Lou were soulmates and best friends. Their joy in each other was inspiration to all of us.
After Sam’s medical residency in Syracuse University Hospital, he was assigned by the Navy to Camp Pendleton in California for two years. After his Navy service, Sam wanted to practice medicine in an area where his efforts could make a big difference. They also wanted to live in central NY to be close to Mary Lou’s family and chose to settle down in the village of Homer, NY in the Finger Lakes Region of central NY. He set up a private practice that grew to cover a large area in Cortland County and worked in Cortland Memorial Hospital for decades. He was ultimately appointed Chief of Cardiology at Cortland Memorial Hospital and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Health Science Center in Syracuse.
Sam was inspired to help Cortland Memorial Hospital become one of the best in the region. He was committed to creating a new service in the hospital every few years. Among the medical units and centers he created were the first ICU in upstate NY, a psychiatric ward, a radioisotope laboratory, a telemetry coronary care unit, and a cardiac rehabilitation unit. He was a continual learner and nearly every year went to medical conferences and trainings. He took the national medical boards twice throughout his career “just for fun.”
In the 1970’s he created a Bio-Medical Ethics Committee. He chose a nurse, a college philosophy professor, a Catholic priest, and a social worker to serve on the committee with him. Sam also brought hospice (the Caring Community of Cortland County) to the area. He served on the boards of the American Cancer Society and the Special Children’s Center.
As Sam often said, he worked in the “golden age of medicine”. He was passionate about his vocation, did house calls until the day he retired, got to know the families of his patients, and had a renowned kind and warm bedside manner.
Every few years, Sam took time off from his medical practice to volunteer elsewhere. He worked for the Navajo Nation on their reservation in Arizona. He worked in Zaire, now Congo, in a remote missionary hospital. He worked with CARE Medico in Honduras, CARE on the Cambodian/Thai border, and with Save the Children in Sudan.
Sam touched countless lives with his kindness, intelligence, and humor. He was an inspiration to many, and especially to his children and grandchildren. His greatest pleasure was to spend time with and hear about his children, and especially his grandchildren. The family all looked forward to his speeches at every family gathering. He would work for weeks on his remarks and would write multiple rough drafts. They were always sentimental, appreciative, and witty. And of course, they always started with a loving ode to Mary Lou.
Sam and Mary Lou had a joyful retirement, spending half the year in Naples, Florida with many family members, and half the year in central New York. In his retirement Sam became an avid cook and told Mary Lou that, after cooking for a family of seven for years, that she would never have to cook another meal. He took great pleasure in pampering Mary Lou, doing all the shopping and errands in addition to cooking. They did everything together – exercised every morning, took walks, sat side by side while they read their books, and watched a movie in the evening. They stopped every day at 5 pm when Sam would prepare a delicious hors d’oeuvre and pour Mary Lou a half glass of red wine (for good health!).
Sam is survived by his brother, Terry, his children and their spouses, Sam and Sally, Linda and Roger, David and Jacqui, John and Margaret, and Lisa and Dan; his grandchildren Miggy, Sammy, Eliza, Farrell, Lucas, Gracie, David, Samantha, Holly, Olivia, Eli, Avery, and Jackson; and his great-grandchildren Jack, Will, Louisa, Frances, Alice, Mason, Charley, and Joey. His memory will live on with all of us.
In lieu of flowers, the family would be grateful for donations to the St. James Episcopal Church, 96 East Genesee Street, Skaneateles, NY 13152. We will hold a memorial service once we are safe from Covid so that we can gather together to celebrate Sam’s life.
You are welcome to offer your thoughts about Sam on the Robert D. Gray Funeral Home Guestbook page.