We at Humanities Texas were deeply saddened by the loss of J. Sam Moore Jr., who passed earlier this month at the age of eighty-six. A Kansas native and Korean War veteran, he attended The University of Texas Law School on the GI Bill. After graduation, he took a job with an El Paso firm where he practiced for thirty-seven years. He was centrally involved in many cultural organizations, including the Philosophical Society of Texas, Friends of the UTEP Library, the El Paso Museum of Art, the El Paso Museum of History, the Texas State Historical Association, the Harry Ransom Center, and the El Paso County Historical Society, among others. He served on the Humanities Texas Board of Directors from 1987 to 1992, as Chair of the board in 1991, and as a a Board Alumi Co-Chair until just last year.
Below are remembrances from Jackson Curlin, former Humanities Texas board member, along with those of other friends, sharing their fond memories of Sam.
Sam may have had a life motto, and one that extended well beyond fishing. If so, it may have borrowed from Izaak Walton [author of The Compleat Angler] quoting his good friend and angling companion, Sir Henry Wotton, as saying about angling, "Twas an employment for his idle time, which was then not idly spent, a rest to his mind, a cheerer of his spirits, a diverter of sadness, a calmer of unquiet thoughts, a moderator of passions, a procurer of contentedness" and "that it begat habits of peace and patience in those that professed and practised it."
If ever there was an individual who valued the humanities, and integrated them into every aspect of everyday life—his friendships, avocations, and his perennial quest for knowledge—it was Sam.
Earlier this month, J. Sam Moore Jr. passed away from the effects of two recent strokes and, though eighty-six, certainly left us sooner than we had hoped. Sam may be properly described as an "applied intellectual" in that he pursued knowledge not only for the sake of his personal joy and satisfaction, but to have a treasure to share with others.
His lifetime pursuit of the humanities became a calling card of sorts and a key into friendships and relationships across town, the state, the nation, and the world. Those friendships encompassed and honed an already keen mind and appreciation for the humanities, and served to enhance his legal career, his angling skills, especially at fly-fishing, his love of literature, history, art, fine music, and mostly his enjoyment of conversation and people. His interests ranged from Shakespeare to Larry McMurtry, Samuel Pepys to Paul Schullery, and Izaak Walton to Lewis and Clark. His music interest spanned from Beethoven to the New Zealand Maori chants and war cries, and almost everything in between. He could speak with captivating interest about the American West, the discovery of New Zealand, and the Mayans of the Yucatan.
The many who knew Sam personally have heard more than once, but always delivered gently, "Been there and done that," followed by, "And did you know . . . ?" It was the "and did you know" that launched his interest, affection, and desire for others to be as excited and informed as he was and to discourse with him in wonderful conversations and time together to stretch the mind. Never were his intellect and knowledge wielded as pride and arrogance, no; they were always a stepping stone or window into his life and its joys. An encounter with Sam was always enriching, and often you left the encounter newly interested in something you originally knew little or nothing about, and you always left a meeting or a visit with reading material, often needing the book bag he brought with him—for you!
Sam Moore was a special friend of mine. One of the most literate persons I know, who always had a special "literature-type" gift to hand out. He was a great recommender of books to read and a supporter of libraries and learning. However, I think I always disappointed him because I never wanted to go fly fishing!
Among Sam's greatest joys was his delightful wife Greta, with whom he shared a fifty-one year marriage and a thrilling life of activity. A Kansas boy and a Swedish girl turned out to be a good mix! In fishing lingo, she was indeed his greatest catch and one the he didn't release. We are the better for having known her, too, as she embodied hospitality and modelled a sweet spirit. He proudly named a son Sam who gave him a wonderful, beautiful granddaughter, Mia—a girl who enjoys the outdoors, fishing, and the Mountain West, as did her grandparents.
Sam Moore and I served on the Humanities Texas Board in the 1980s. Sam urged us to find a way to supply every library in Texas with the Library of America series. He had a way of going to the heart of what's important and the program was a huge success. We enjoyed the Texas State Historical Association and the Philosophical Society of Texas together, too. Our bond was a love of books and reading and a love of flyfishing. I cherish the memories of Sam and Greta welcoming us and our grandkids at Fish Creek in Wilson, Wyoming, and Sam teaching them how to cast a line. Leadership in the humanities, a love of words and books and for family and friends—Sam lived a beautiful, happy life. My life is better because we were friends. My heart goes out to his son Sam and granddaughter Mia. I hope that they find comfort in knowing that we all loved Sam and that we'll miss him too.
If simply a love of journals, diaries, and the writings of early trappers, explorers, military campaigns, pioneers, and navigators would in themselves create an "explorer," then Sam rose to the opportunity. He never met a museum, bookstore, or library he didn’t like, and he visited them from London to New York to Boston to Los Angeles to Santa Fe. And don’t even ask about exploration of fly shops—from Wilson, Wyoming, to West Yellowstone, from Belize to Argentina, and from London to the north of Sweden—if it had fishing gear in the name, he was going to explore it. Through those explorations, his interest in people and knowledge, and the backdrop of his humanities-first attitude, he befriended author, proprietor, librarian, or curator alike, and, in doing so, elevated their interests and their expertise yet further. Those friendships were life-long, and both they and Sam counted them richly.
One only need look at his contact list and email activity to see the breadth and depth of the relationships he valued and those that were drawn to him. He had real friends from the Bullock, the Harry Ransom Center, the Houghton Library, the Huntington Library, the National Archives, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Blue Ribbon Flyshop in West Yellowstone, the Special Collections Libraries at The University of Texas at El Paso and Montana State, and the Museums of Art, History, and Archaeology in El Paso, among so many others, including those many over the years at Humanities Texas.
Sam Moore's death is a loss to our state. This is to say nothing of the many friends Sam had across the state. When Sam came to Austin, he would try to spend a day at the Harry Ransom Center, and he is the only person I knew who would always have a book in his hand to either give you or quote from. He was not in the least bit intimidated by the millions of books at the Ransom Center. A fine man of great humor, wit, and charm. He always had nothing but good things to say about his fellow bibliophiles and the many people whom he knew and loved. Sam Moore leaves a great many of us who knew and loved him. And could he catch trout.
While a Kansan by birth, with deep, pre-Civil War roots in Lawrence, he embraced life in Texas and particularly El Paso. He would recite chapter and verse of the amazing history of El Paso and its significance on both the North-South and the East-West axes of history. Among his favorite hidden gems was the Camino Real Museum and Trail Site in San Antonio, New Mexico. Who knew? Go look for it—he'd be glad you did! He was a student and scholar of the Chamizal Dispute and Treaty that created the boundaries of what are now El Paso and Juarez as we know them, and he would excitedly take you to Boundary Marker 1, placed in 1851 as a result of the Emory Survey of the then new U.S. and Mexican border. In fact, he proudly could see the marker from his picture window at home.
Every city needs a Sam Moore, an unofficial ambassador who spouts its history, touts its charm, and shares its culture; someone who imports conferences, conventions, and new friends, while exporting literature, learning, and laughter. Whenever we think of El Paso, we'll always remember Sam.
Lest you think that Sam was an intellectual giant who barely tolerated mere mortals, nothing would be a bigger misconception of the man! His greatest delight was not in the accumulation but in the dissemination of his gifts. Among those were stories, his contacts, his books, his artwork, his knowledge, and, yes, even his fly tackle. To have something he gave you was to have a seed which germinated into your own interests, curiosity, and enrichment. Over time, he carefully and faithfully nurtured those seeds so that you, too, would also pass them on to another and another, ever changing the landscape of your life. His generosity was especially evident in the lives of young people, as he delighted in igniting young minds to what the world offered and what treasures might await them through education, reading, and experiences. Many a kid has caught their first fish with Sam as their "angling consultant," including my own ten-year-old granddaughter.
Sam was a gentle man with a twinkling sense of humor and determined views on issues—a hard combination to find. He will be severely missed by me and by all who knew him.
Sam’s passing brings sadness to a great many folks, but to those who had a Sam encounter—a visit, a letter, an email, a book or ten, a fly rod or reel or fly—and his friendship, had created memories to spare and to share. If the humanities are defined as "learning or literature concerned with human culture, especially literature, history, art, music, and philosophy," then Sam's love of the humanities imparted to us both catalyst and treasure by which he will be remembered. And it should end as it began, with Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler: "I have laid aside business and gone-a-fishing!" Rest well, my friend, and fish fine and far off!
Sam Moore was the best-read man I have ever known, who took joy in sharing his knowledge with all. Sam was the finest angler and the most generous angling mentor one could wish for. Sam was quite simply one of the best friends I have ever had. My life is the richer for having spent twenty-five summers fishing and hanging out with him at Fish Creek, plus all the in-between encounters through shared books and shared experiences in the Philosophical Society and the Harry Ransom Center. Tight lines forever, Sam.
Sam Moore was one of a kind. His passions were always crystal clear and pursued with intense energy. Whether admiring a precious volume in UTEP's Special Collections department or a beautifully tied fly at his fishing camp in Wilson, Wyoming, Sam devoted time to learn all he could about what he most appreciated. All of us at UTEP will miss the opportunity to continue learning from him.
Sam Moore was a most cultivated man who refrained from expounding his learning. Rather, he shared it sparingly with friends in the course of each day if he thought it would benefit their lives.
Any conversation with Sam, whether about poetry or fishing lures, led to laughter. That's why I could always find him in a crowded room. I would look for the circle that was lit up with laughter—that would be Sam.