Ferrol Sams made mark as physician, bestselling author | Mercer Legends 

Ferrol Sams. Photo by Billy Howard Photography.
Ferrol Sams. Photo by Billy Howard Photography.

Dr. Ferrol A. Sams Jr. is one of Mercer’s most accomplished graduates. After a successful career as a physician, he continued to make an impact on readers across the country, including Mercerians, through his words as an author. Here’s how he became a Mercer Legend.

Dr. Ferrol A. Sams Jr.

Mercer connection: Mercer graduate; member of Mercer Board of Trustees; author of “The Whisper of the River,” which was read by generations of Mercer students. 

Years at Mercer: Student, 1939-1942; Mercer Trustee, 1992-1997.

What he did: Dr. Sams, a native of Fayette County, graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1942 and went on to serve in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and then earn a Doctor of Medicine at Emory University Medical School in 1949. After retiring as a physician, he began a new chapter as a writer.

He authored eight books, including a trilogy with a lead character modeled after himself, Porter Osborne Jr. “Run With the Horsemen,” published in 1982 when he was 60 years old, is about growing up on an ancestral farm in Georgia; 1984’s “The Whisper of the River” parallels Dr. Sams’ education at Mercer, named Willingham University in the book; and “When All the World Was Young,” released in 1991, details Porter’s experiences as an Army surgical assistant during World War II.

Dr. Sams’ other works include “The Widow’s Mite,” a collection of first-person short stories about social problems in a Southern town; “Epiphany,” a volume of three philosophical novellas; and nonfiction books “The Passing: Perspectives of Rural America” and “Christmas Gift!” His novel “Down Town” was published by Mercer University Press in 2007.

Dr. Sams died in 2013 at 90 years old. 

Why he is a legend: Dr. Sams was a storyteller and humorist whose books became national bestsellers. Rooted in oral traditions of Southern humor and folklore, his works are witty and affectionate portrayals of life in Georgia, growing up in the rural South and the changing Southern landscape. 

A page of Dr. Sams' notes for "The Whisper of the River."
A page of Dr. Sams’ notes for “The Whisper of the River.”

His books have resonated with readers in the South and across the country. The third installment of his trilogy, “When All the World Was Young,” won the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and generations of Mercer students have read “The Whisper of the River” in class.

In 1993, Mercer established the Ferrol A. Sams Jr. Distinguished Chair of English, which brings a nationally prominent fiction writer, poet or dramatist to Mercer each spring to teach creative writing and highlight the literary arts. Every year, Mercer University Press gives the Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction to a manuscript that addresses the human condition in a Southern context. In addition, the Jennifer Sams Endowed Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in memory of his granddaughter.

Dr. Sams delivered the commencement address to the Mercer School of Medicine in 2010. He was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2007 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Writers Association in 2012.

Quotable: “(Dr. Sams) was an amazing man and a great Mercerian. Generations have been inspired by the accounts of his exploits while at Mercer in ‘The Whisper of the River.’” — Mercer President William D. Underwood

Dr. Ferrol Sams and his wife, Dr. Helen Fletcher Sams.
Dr. Ferrol Sams and his wife, Dr. Helen Fletcher Sams.

Mercer Legends is a series that highlights iconic figures who left a lasting impact on the University and its faculty, staff and students, as well as the community.


Do you have a story idea or viewpoint you'd like to share with The Den?
Get in touch with us by emailing den@mercer.edu or submitting this online form.