Bill Cosby ... Michael Jordan... Brad Pitt ... Martin Sheen... Denzel Washington Eddie Sampson. What do all of these men have in common? They are all alumni of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. And to a man, they never fail to admit they owe a lot to the club that long ago instilled a sense of belonging, and competence and usefulness in their lives. This one hundred year old organization bills itself as a "safe place for kids to learn and grow all while having fun," and there's no argument on that score from former members. At every opportunity, Denzel seems to go out of his way to credit Boys & Girls Club with launching his life on the right path. I thought that would make a good story but he hasn't returned any of my calls, so I went to another ardent alumnus and heard the same message.
Richard Edward Sampson grew up in McLean, Virginia in a house right next door to the Boys & Girls Club. "It was great. You didn't just have one friend; you had twenty at a time, all the time." Since he was twelve years old, in addition to B&GC, sports and school, Eddie Sampson worked. He mowed lawns, renovated houses and did a lot of painting. Eddie's parents, Richard, a mailman turned security guard at South Lakes High in Reston, and Mom Nancy, a seamstress, instilled a work ethic in their son that has carried through his life. Eddie's older sister, Peggy and younger brother Ward followed suit. Peggy is a former member of the Capitol Hill Police force and now a Congressional Page Supervisor. Ward owns a running store in Reston and fills his extra hours as a bartender. The Sampson family is a hard-working family.
Eddie played basketball and football at Langley High and then went off to Radford College and earned a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice. "I loved college loved it; and I majored in criminal justice because I wanted to work with kids in trouble."
Eddie Sampson, right, with friends Phil and Hannah
After graduation he spent the next few years in real estate, managing a health club, as a programmer at GW and continued working in the home improvement industry.
He bought a home in Vienna and settled down. Then in 1996, Eddie's criminal justice background helped him land a spot in the Congressional Security Office of the Sergeant at Arms, the chief security officer of the US House of Representatives. This team is responsible for the security of the House wing of the Capitol, the House office buildings and the Members of Congress, their staffs and visitors. And it's not for the faint of heart nor the thin of skin. There are stories and instances that Eddie, true professional he is, wouldn't share but what he did say is that despite the gravity of the job he gets to spend time in the Cloakroom talking with members about sports and physical fitness. And he has the reputation around the House as the "go to guy" when it comes to anything about biking and paddling. "I've heard they say you have to talk to Eddie." He said with his big smile. He's made a lot of "friends" in Congress over the years and the ones that "walk the walk" are the best. "The good people who haven't forgotten how they got there in the first place."
Since he first arrived more than twelve years ago, security around the Capitol was getting increasingly tighter. Then on September eleven 2001 it became fortress-like. "The Capitol had to be evacuated and there is plan for that but no one knew what was going on all hell broke loose." He didn't even raise his voice as he spoke. Eddie Sampson is a friendly guy with a big smile who speaks in a measured and confident tone: A critically important quality in someone leading you to safely.
Eddie stepped up the pursuit of his dream of helping troubled kids learn to love the great outdoors. He found a track of land for a camp way out in Paw Paw on the Canal. Things looked promising for awhile but then something about gas tanks and the EPA scuttled the plan, but not the dream.
In 2004 Eddie took a bike tour around Virginia and detoured through Shepherdstown. "I'd never been here before and I was still looking for property. I saw the C&O Canal and the Potomac ... it was perfect. I took a walk down German Street, the town had such character. Then I walked by this building for sale."
We were sitting in his self-renovated building discussing the joys of biking all the while my attention was on video of some kid and his bike doing cart wheels and tight-rope riding on a big screen. Amazing. Anyway, Eddie bought the building which now houses P&P and Mellow Moods and here is where he spends his weekends thinking of ways to help kids, if not with a camp then using the shop as home base. Hannah Beahm and Phil Wescott hold down the fort during the week while Eddie is at the epicenter of government.
"I couldn't do any of this without Hannah and Phil. Right after I begin renovating the building Phil came by and saw that the new business was going to be all about outdoor good times and he stuck his resume under the door. Now you have to admire that kind of vision." Phil, in addition to being "a blessing" to the business, is the bass guitarist in the area-famous Wescott Brothers band.
Hannah and Eddie, who are partners and partners, met on a bike trail and have been together every since. They're of like minds. They ride at least forty miles in the morning and on several occasions their rides have gone way past 40 miles to 200.
"What other favorites do I have, said Eddie. "I like smoothies." He wasn't kiddinghe loves them. Mellow Moods "Smoothie Phil" is a close friend of Eddie's who creates food that's good for you. Double bonus points for that. "Berry Buzz" was Eddie's immediate answer to "What's your favorite?"
Phil watches out for us big-time. Eddie said. "One day an order of bikes arrived and we were closed. Dozens of new bikes were just dumped in the backyard. Phil called me and then stood guard. Other neighbors came out and took turns till I could get up here. We all watch out for each other. It's a great town."
I first saw, not met just saw, the man with a big smile and cool manner, last fall when he was breezing around town passing out flyers saying "Take a Chance and help a neighbor." The raffle was for a bike and all the proceeds were to benefit the Mason Ellsworth Fund. "Buy a raffle ticket for $5 and the Fund wins and so could you." Now who could refuse that offer? I couldn't and went to buy a ticket, and that's when I discovered the man passing out the flyers was the man who owned the shop. No confusion about the raffle there; Eddie was giving away a $400 bike and in the process doing a good thing for a great kid.
Tomorrow, Saturday, March 14, everyone is invited to join Eddie, Hannah, Phil and friends at 7:30 a.m. at Pedal & Paddle to walk and bike to the C&O Canal. The call to Adopt-a-Trail came from the Park Service with the purpose of cleaning up the banks of the C&O Canal. Eddie's trail runs from the Rumsey Bridge to and Antietam Camp ground and everyone is welcome to participate. If it rains the clean-up will take place on March 21.
But whenever it happens, the land around us, which let's face it is pretty spectacular, will be fresher and cleaner and serve as a reminder of what's really important to boys and girls of all ages, that we are lucky and blessed and stewards of a beautiful little corner of the world we call home.
- Sue Kennedy is a former public relations executive and Emmy Award winning screenplay writer