Sam Jamot Brown died Thursday, January 7, 2021, at his home in Durango, Colorado, after a very full 91 years of life.
For the last three-plus decades, Sam and his wife, Sherry, split their time between homes in Durango and Austin, Texas.
Sam had success in the oil business, but his greatest loves were an adventure, which included travel to remote points on all seven continents; education, which he never stopped pursuing; and Sherry, whom he married in 1988.
He was born April 1, 1929, in Florence, Colorado, the only child of Thelma Schmoyer Brown. His father died from complications of appendicitis five months before Sam was born. Thelma and her son moved to places where she could find work and had family. Sam recalled packing his belongings in a paper sack for their first move, to Corpus Christi, Texas, around age 10.
Later they lived in Tacoma, Washington, where Sam attended the historic Stadium High School. He had begun laboring for good wages when he reached his teen years, loading lumber among other jobs. His physical jobs developed his upper body and prepared him for future such work.
Sam's first vehicle was a 1931 Ford Roadster convertible purchased for $150. The rottedout canvas top meant that "You were subject to the vicissitudes of the often-rainy Tacoma weather," Sam recalled.
Sam and Thelma next headed for Los Angeles in the Roadster. Sam's Aunt Babe - his father's sister, Barbara Brown Maddox - was a Chadwick teacher and got him a meeting with Margaret Chadwick, co-founder of Chadwick seaside School, a private boarding school on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It was a turning point in Sam's life as he convinced Margaret Chadwick that he was up for the challenge.
The Browns could not afford full tuition, but through a work-study program, Sam was admitted to Chadwick. He felt aloof from the main student body, some of whom were children of Hollywood stars chauffeured to school in Chryslers and Cadillacs. But he caught up to the other students with the diligence that Margaret Chadwick helped instill. He began making and memorizing a list of new words to increase his vocabulary. It was a habit he continued until days
before his death.
Sam graduated from Chadwick in 1947, and in 2010 he was presented the school's "Distinguished Alumni of the Year" honor.
After beginning college in Oregon, Sam returned to California in 1949, this time nearly penniless and in desperate search of a job. Workers were needed at the oil rigs on Signal Hill above Long Beach. So he drummed up courage, walked up to a rig and got a job in the morning, changed clothes, and returned for work in the afternoon. It was dirty and dangerous, but it paid well and allowed him to return to school at the University of Southern California.
Sam married his first wife, Patricia Ann Crail, on November 4, 1950, in Los Angeles. Their first of four children, daughter Christina, was born on October 24, 1951. Meanwhile, Sam continued at USC and earned a degree in geology in 1952. He briefly began a graduate program in micropaleontology but returned to work to support his family.
Sam returned to the oil business, and his work took him to Venezuela. That's where he was when his second child, son Edwin, was born October 21, 1953, in L.A. Patricia and the children joined him in Caracas, Venezuela, before all returned to California a year later. The family was rounded out by daughter Kimberley, born November 7, 1955, and son, Lawrence, born September 16, 1957.
The family moved to Kern County in the San Joaquin Valley, where Sam worked for Victory Oil. Sam was not content with his role at Victory and took a big chance by purchasing an oil lease with his life savings. With six existing wells, he and partner Bob Johnson began their own production business, Brown and Johnson Oil Company.
In 1958, Victory Oil merged with Brown and Johnson, who took over the lead positions at Victory. For the next quarter-century Sam headed up the logistics of drilling, producing, and expanding the business. By necessity, Sam invented contraptions that he called, simply, "The Treater" and "The Bomb." Both inventions, later copied by others (he had no patent), used steam injection to enhance processing of the thick oil in the San Joaquin fields.
Sam was featured in a front-page story on independent oilmen in the Los Angeles Times Business Section in 1980. In 1983 Sam and his partner sold Victory Oil to Sun Oil in a deal big enough for the Wall Street Journal to write up. Sam's second life began.
Sam and Sharon "Sherry" Johnson were married in 1988. Sherry had two daughters from a previous marriage: DeeDee Johnson (born in 1969) and Jennifer Tolan (1971), and, along with Jennifer's husband, William, and their two children, Theo and Finn, became part of what Sam considered family.
From the 1980s to the 2010s, Sam and Sherry traveled the globe, visiting far-flung locales from the Falklands to Russia during the height of the Cold War to Antarctica to the foot of Mount Everest on a trip led by Tenzing Norgay to Timbuktu, Africa.
Although retired, Sam had no trouble keeping busy. When not traveling, he studied myriad subjects, filling bookshelves with the history of some of his favorite adventurers (Hillary, Shackleton, Amundson). He studied the art of writing, which included taking continuing education courses at Fort Lewis College in Durango. (In 2017 Sam published a book of his short fiction and nonfiction stories, titled, "Rendezvous: Timbuktu.")
For his 81st birthday, Sherry surprised Sam with a flight on a P-51, a small, World War IIera fighter plane. (Sherry didn't realize that the pilot would allow Sam to take the controls and perform barrel rolls and such.) Sam had a life-long fascination with flight. In the 1960s he began to build a bi-plane, then later purchased a Cessna 150 that he flew around the Central Valley and to the Pacific Coast.
Published in The Durango Herald on Jun. 2, 2021.