Community bids farewell to Sam Bailey at service
Crowds of people flowed into the area next to the Old Bailey’s Store at the Sanibel Historical Village & Museum on a sunny Oct. 2 morning for the “Celebration of Sam Bailey’s Life,” signing in and passing through an avenue of pictures of Sam.
There were 200 folding chairs in the front and at least 200 hay bales arranged for seating behind them; by the time the service started all were filled and there people as far as the eye could see standing in the back (500 or more). Many people wore Islands Night T-shirts spanning the many years of the event, including lots of Captivans and off-island retirees who came to pay their respects as well.
The very moving service, largely orchestrated by Bailey’s general manager Richard Johnson and his wife, Mary Mead (Sam’s niece) “with the entire community helping,” opened with a welcome from Johnson, followed by Callie Atkinson in a delightful a capella rendition of Sam’s favorite song, “God Bless
America.” Many in the audience joined in towards the end.
There were special speakers at the gathering. Sam’s older brother, Francis, made a point of saying “That man was one of the most ornery, cantankerous, bull-headed human beings that ever lived. Probably the only thing we ever agreed on over the years was money!
“But he was my brother. And I’m happy we had him as long as we did,” he added.
Francis told a couple of stories (when has either one of them gotten up in front of people and not told a couple of stories?) including one about the 48-hour bus ride returning to college in Farmville, Va. after Christmas years ago, with Sam climbing up into the overhead luggage rack and sleeping for a good portion of the trip.
“Oh… one other thing,” Francis added with a big grin. “You’ll note this is the longest I’ve ever gotten to talk at any event where Sam was involved!“
Sanibel City Manager Judie Zimomra told a tale about the “greeting” she got from Sam the first time she came to be interviewed: “Hmmph. We don’t need a City Manager from Cleveland — of all places — on Sanibel.“
Sam chaired the Sanibel Historical Commission from 1985 to 2010, so one of the first things Judie did when she was hired was get Sam to show her all around the Village — Sam’s Sanibel — and tell her about each building.
“I learned a lot from Sam,” she said.
And, in keeping with Sam’s proclivity for writing poems to commemorate important events, she then read a poem she’d written, entitled “For Whom Does The School Bell Toll, Sam Bailey?” honoring the venerable elder statesman.
When she finished reading the poem, she raised her hand briefly as if to wave goodbye, and the school bell did indeed toll for Sam.
Former mayor and longtime island businessman Marty Harrity considered Sam one of his best friends.
“I always called him ‘Coach,’” he said. “And he was always a team player. Whatever he was involved in, it was always about ‘We,’ not ‘I.’“
Several others spoke, including city councilman Jim Jennings and Dean Skaugstad, representing the Hammerheads, who said, “Sam is part of every building you see out here. We were on his ‘payroll’ — free coffee, donuts and ‘supervision’ every morning we were here!“
Carlene Brennen told about meeting Sam 45 years ago, when she was starting the Sanibel-Captiva Shopper’s Guide.
“Later, when Terry and I were getting married, I asked Sam about whether Terry and I could get married here. Not only did he say ‘Yes,’ but he offered to bring me to the wedding in the Model T. He arrived at least a half-hour early to pick me up. Of course, I wasn’t ready yet, and he was outside yelling for me to hurry up or he might not be able to keep the old thing running! I hurried as best I could, we chugged our way here, and Francis married us on the porch of the Rutland House.“
One of Sam’s daughters, Tye Carter, with her husband Bryan at her side “in case I can’t make it all the way through,” read a tribute she had written to her dad.
Rusty Farst was there to not only film the event for the family, but to show a video he compiled called “Sam Bailey: In His Own Words.” There was even an “Eye in the Sky” — Attic Chat Productions on a lift provided by David West — referred to by everyone as Sam looking down on the biggest crowd he’s ever seen in the Village!
After the service was over, Johnson said, “You know, Mary Mead and I were nothing more than a couple of people that other people wanted to help — his extended family throughout the community and the business community… Rusty, Billy Kirkland, people at the store… everyone. Thank you all so very much. It wouldn’t have happened without each and every one of you.”