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Lives Lived: William Gillis Sampson, 71 Add to ...

Health inspector, community volunteer, father, true Cape Bretoner. Born Sept. 27, 1941, in Sydney, N.S., died Oct. 24, 2012, in Sydney of cancer, aged 71.

Bill Sampson was our own King of Kensington: When he walked down the street, he would say hello to anyone he met. Invariably they’d reply,“Hello, Bill,” having known him for years. He was born, raised and lived most of his life in Sydney, Cape Breton.

Bill was a health inspector for the Nova Scotia government, and long after his retirement, when he was out grocery shopping, he would be checking that the eggs were properly refrigerated.

He taught his children about E. coli and botulism at a very young age. He took his responsibilities in life very seriously. Safety was a virtue that he held very dear.

Bill was the father who nailed signs reading, “Caution, Children Playing” onto telephone poles at either end of the street where he lived.

He and his wife for 39 years, Joan, had four children and two granddaughters.

Bill was an avid volunteer who served on numerous boards and committees. To his children, he could do just about anything. The truth is that he did do – and would have done – anything for them. He was at times their mechanic, accountant, short-order cook, Beavers leader, soccer coach, lifeguard and supporter.

Neighbourhood children recall how Bill somehow persuaded the janitor of the local junior high school to let him onto the roof so he could throw down all the lost tennis balls. The kids’ delight was matched only by his own.

One summer he returned from a public-health conference with a seemingly infinite supply of piggy banks shaped like septic tanks, which he handed out to the local kids.

He loved children. He let his granddaughter, Avery, put grass all over his head, seeming to believe her prophesy that it would make his hair grow.

Bill appreciated everything in life, and never hesitated to express it. Above all else, he appreciated his wife. Everything she cooked was “just beautiful,” and she never had to leave the house without him telling her how good she looked.

In some ways, he was a paradox – never angry, but always a fighter. He’d abandoned the seminary, yet maintained a great faith. When his children were taking school exams, he’d go to church and pray that they’d do well.

He was full of jokes and stories. His favourite story, which he invented, was called, “The Bear with No Hair.” It became like folklore to the neighbourhood children.

Of his children, he would say, with his mild Cape Breton accent, “They’re doing excellent.” In more recent years, they would say it back to him.

And Bill was doing excellent, relatively speaking. Though he had cancer for 11 years, hardly anyone knew until very recently. That was how he wanted it.

It must be said that Bill Sampson never merely jumped into the swimming pool – he always did a cannonball.

When he lifted something hot out of the oven, he’d always proclaim proudly that he had Peggy’s hands, invoking his late mother, who apparently could touch fire with her bare hands.

In his jeep, the only song he played was Johnny Reid’s Today I’m Going to Try to Change the World, and he played it all the time. But the thing about Bill was, he didn’t just play it, he really lived it.

Marina Sampson is Bill’s daughter.

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