Terry Sams, 80, known to a generation of young Augusta television viewers as “Trooper Terry,” died Friday after a brief illness, but those who knew him said he has left a permanent mark on Augusta.
“He is indeed someone who will never be forgotten and a television legend in Augusta,” said Mary Morrison, anchor of Good Morning Augusta and News Channel 6 at Noon.
Morrison is just one of many people who can attribute their start in the news industry to Sams. When she was hired in 1988 Sams was WJBF’s general manager.
Although he was best known for his role in the Trooper Terry Show, which ran from 1962 to 1982, he also wrote, produced, provided voice overs, did weather forecasts and worked as the station’s general manager, program manager, vice president and was part owner at one time.
In a 2007 interview with North Augusta Today, he estimated that 156,000 children participated in The Trooper Terry Show during its 20-year run.
Last Christmas Sams rode in the television station’s float.
“I have to say as our float moved through the streets of Augusta, it was his name that the crowd yelled,” Morrison said. “He was very, very beloved in the community for generations. Everyone knew who Trooper Terry was.”
Growing up in Tennessee, he said he had no intention of becoming a television personality. He actually wanted to be a musician.
But at 16, he took a radio job at WBEJ, then another one in Johnston City, Tenn., then Lexington, Ky., until he landed in Augusta in 1961.
Mary Jones, program director at WJBF, was hired by Sams “a long time ago.” As his assistant, she got to see him in action and help book the shows, which would fill for an entire year in a matter of hours.
“I think every family wanted their child to celebrate his or her birthday on the show, but we could only accommodate so many,” Jones said.
In December as part of the station’s 60th anniversary, Sams returned to the station for a Trooper Terry reunion, but it wasn’t his only return to his news roots.
Up until Sams got ill, he continued to visit the station and do public service announcements and voice overs that continue to air. With such a recognizable voice, those voice overs bring back a childhood of memories for people who raced home in the afternoons to hear Trooper Terry yell “Hey kids!” into their television sets.
“He was a true broadcaster,” said Jones, who admitted to learning a lot from Sams. “He could do it all.”
When Sams wasn’t working he played the trombone at First Baptist Church of North Augusta, rode motorcycles, went scuba diving and enjoyed gardening at his North Augusta home, collecting guns and just loafing around, he said in the 2007 interview.
“We were on the same page of life,” said Roy Kiser, who is minister of senior adults at First Baptist and considered Sams a close friend. “We liked the same kind of music and we kind of saw life the same way. We enjoyed poking fun at each other and just being together.”
Kiser directed the senior adult choir, which Sams sang in, and the men played together in the church orchestra.
Although Sams no longer wore a trooper hat and badge, Kiser got to see the long-lasting effect Trooper Terry had in Augusta each year when they visited nursing homes and assisted living communities at Christmas.
“There were always a whole group of people who knew Trooper Terry and were on his show,” Kiser said. “That made it great.”
Sams would then recite The Night Before Christmas from memory for the groups.
“He just has that special announcer voice that made it work,” he said.
Posey Funeral Home in North Augusta is handling arrangements. A memorial services will be 6 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church in North Augusta.
Sams leaves behind a wife, three daughters, one son and multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren.