With Elvis Presley crooning, “… don’t you step on my blue suede shoes,” birds Molly and Holly squawking on their perches, and words of love whispered in his ear, Eugene Vincent Sampson said his final good-byes.
Sampson, an endlessly strong man considered the patriarch of the L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. community, died at home on August 11, 2011, at 11:20 a.m. of lung cancer. He was 81.
“I will remember him as the gentleman-the one who always thinks of how to help people,” said Dorothy Copps, a fellow community member at L’Arche. “He wasn’t superficial. He felt very deeply and wanted significant relationships.”
Sampson will also be remembered as a great dancer, a flirt, and a gentle spirit who had a special way with children and animals.
Sampson was born to the late Catherine A. (Kelly) Sampson and Edward H. Sampson on March 18, 1930. He had three siblings: a sister, Mary Neal (Francis), and two brothers, William H. Sampson (Myrtle) and Robert P. Sampson.
Sampson was an animal lover from an early age. One of his favorite childhood memories was of going swimming with his father and their Cocker Spaniel-a pooch who would nearly knock Sampson’s mother over with excitement when his father suggested they go for a drive.
As a teenager Sampson moved to Forest Haven in Laurel, Maryland, an institution for people with disabilities, where he lived until he was 53. Sampson considered his move to Forest Haven a prison sentence. He frequently served as a pallbearer at funerals no one else attended. Sampson later recalled a few fond memories of his years there-taking bikes and sneaking off campus with his buddies, Glen Houser and Mo Higgs, or eating donuts and watching TV in their cottage before going to bed.
Sampson was invited to move out of Forest Haven to L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. (then known as Community of the Ark) when it opened its doors in 1983. He agreed to go, but only if his friend Glen could come, too. L’Arche welcomed them both, along with Mo Higgs. (Houser later moved to his own apartment; Higgs continues to make L’Arche his home.)
“It’s like he won a million dollar lottery,” Linda Goette, Sampson’s niece, remarked of his move to L’Arche.
Indeed, for the first time in his adult life Sampson was free to make his own choices and see his dreams fulfilled. In 2006, his dream of having his own apartment came true when L’Arche renovated one of its two homes in Adams Morgan to include a studio apartment. Sampson decorated his walls with Elvis posters and got a coffee pot. He named his cat Joseph after his nephew, and when the cat passed, Sampson brought in a birdcage to house two parakeets. He enjoyed walks in the neighborhood, frequently stopping at McDonald’s on the corner of Columbia Road and 18th Street to get a cup of coffee.
Sampson’s move to the apartment drew headlines when government officials attempted to force L’Arche to evict him based on L’Arche’s certificate of occupancy. L’Arche had requested changes to the certificate that went unanswered until D.C. at-large councilmember Phil Mendelson read about Sampson in the paper. Mendelson took action, enabling Sampson to stay in his home and increasing the number of people L’Arche was able to welcome.
Sampson held numerous jobs, including folding towels for a laundry service, janitorial work, and making coffee and washing dishes at the Potter’s House. In 2002 he began attending programs at Iona Senior Services. Sampson was a member of L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. and Eighth Day Faith Community.
He is survived by eleven nieces and nephews: Joseph Neal, Edward Neal, Barbara Neal, Denise Klingsten, David Neal, Kathy Sampson, Carol Colon, Linda Goette, Nancy Duncan, Glen Sampson, and Tim Sampson.