A native Winston-Salem resident, Sam McMurray is 97-yrs-old. He was born on June 20, 1916. As a child, he wanted to be a teacher; however, being drafted into the Army during WWII ended that dream — but Sam says, “I still had a good life.” Sam grew up in the “Happy Hill” area of Winston-Salem. He graduated from Atkins High School — as an honor student.
His grandfather, George Washington Dunlap, was Caucasian and the only white deacon in his church. He worked for the president of Wachovia bank as the house manager who managed the house staff of maids, cooks and the chauffeur.
In the early 1900’s, his Grandfather George brought his wife-to-be Cynthia and her daughter Maggie from Lancaster, SC to live in Winston-Salem. George and Cynthia married soon after returning to Winston-Salem. Later, Maggie married Robert McMurray, and they became the parents of Sam. Sam’s father worked in a furniture store, and his mother worked at Salem College in the laundry room along with Sam’s sisters.
Sam was raised by his grandparents, but his grandfather built two additional homes on the property. Sam’s parents and siblings lived in one of the homes, and the third was rented to a railroad worker and his family.
One of Sam’s childhood memories was “hog season.” Sam’s grandfather would kill hogs every year, and area families would help with the process. He remembers the hogs hanging in the basement after being slaughtered. The families that helped were paid with meat.
When Sam graduated from High School in 1935, he went to work for the Welfare Drug Store in Old Salem. While working there he was drafted into the Army to fight in WWII. He reported to Fort Bragg, NC and was shipped to Columbus, GA for boot camp. From there he served in England and Germany during WWII. Sam also served in Korea during the Korean War. Sam attributes his high school education with his success in the Army and with having many doors opened for him in his life. He was able to move up quickly in the ranks during his military service, and he earned the respect of all races in and out of the military.
After retiring from the Army as a 1st Sergeant, Sam returned to Winston-Salem and went back to his job at the Welfare Drugstore. Later, Sam was given an opportunity to work for SECCA — Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art — where he worked for more than twenty years. Sam vividly remembers the Hanes Mansion owned by James Hanes who willed the mansion to the gallery.
During his life, Sam was married twice. He and his first wife were blessed with two daughters who are now retired school teachers. After his first wife’s passing, Sam remarried. With that marriage, he gained three additional children. His stepson owns his own business, one of his step-daughters works for the City and the other stepdaughter works for Reynolds. Sam shared that he is blessed that all of his children are still involved in his life. One of Sam’s grandsons is Chris McCoy, who was a star football player for Wake Forest University.
Sam never imagined that he would live to be ninety-seven years old. He sometimes reflects on all that he’s seen in his lifetime. The Depression, the fight for racial equality and all of the inventions and new electronic technology that he’s witnessed during his ninety-seven years are the things that really stand out.
Sam is the oldest member of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. He’s been a member there for about thirty years, and he is a former member of the choir. The church recently honored Sam with a dinner and party for his ninety-seventh birthday. Sam was also honored with a variety of birthday parties and dinners given by his old friends and business associates in Old Salem. “Everyone has been so good to me for my birthday this year,” he says.
Sam says that through everything he has experienced in his life, including having to go to dialysis three times a week for the last four or five years, he feels good and can still say that he has lived a good life. He currently resides at Creekside Terrace Retirement Community in Winston-Salem. He says that he loves his home there and that the staff and residents are what make living at Creekside special. He says that everyone looks out for each other, and they don’t have any worries there. Sam keeps active by attending church and going out to dinner with his lady friend of over 20 years. He enjoys going to an occasional ball game, playing pool with his good friend at Creekside, and he loves watching baseball and wrestling on TV.
If Sam could offer any advice to a future senior it would be, “Don’t drink, become a member of a church and put God first, take care of your family and your body, and above all always honor your mother and father and your days will be long.”
Sam retired from the United States Army after more than twenty years of dedicated service.