God helps us handle what we are given
Anyone that knows Brenda Samford would probably find it hard to believe that as a child, she was shy and had very low self-esteem. The lady who sat behind the City Manager’s desk for over 12 years and managed every facet of city government is far from that now. She was able to handle the toughest of problems with poise and confidence and made herself available to anyone who needed a problem solved. Her door was always open.
Brenda was the oldest child of Johnny and Barbara Scott. Her sister, Tina, is six years younger. She had a fairly normal childhood until she reached 5th grade. When she did her school work, her hands would hurt. She complained about it, but no one seemed to pay much attention. She came home from working on an assignment at the library one day and knew something had to be done. “I told Daddy, which is not something I normally did; I always went to Mother, but she wasn’t listening. He knew something was wrong because he noticed how sloppy my handwriting had gotten.”
Brenda was taken to the doctor and it took six weeks of running blood tests before they ever came up with an answer. They finally decided it was rheumatoid arthritis. To make matters worse, she began having side effects which was eventually determined to be Hepatitis C. The doctors thought possibly all those needles from drawing blood had caused the hepatitis, but it was just a guess. Because Hepatitis C is highly contagious, Brenda had to be quarantined. She spent four weeks in Panola General and the only visitors she could have were her mother and daddy. She was sent home but wasn’t allowed out of the house. “I literally did nothing but sit in a chair and rock…all day long. I watched TV and read.”
She had a relapse and it was worse the second time. She had no energy and the arthritis made her ache all over. “I don’t know how my family put up with me because I had a really bad attitude. They gave me everything I wanted since they felt sorry for me, but I was tired of being different from everybody else.” Because of the relapse, Brenda missed all of the 6th grade and most of the 7th grade. June Baker was the home school teacher at the time and Brenda looked forward to her bringing her schoolwork. When she finally got back into school, Brenda was a different person. She didn’t feel comfortable and didn’t have the normal relationship with kids after being out for so long.
By the time Brenda was in high school, everything was getting back to normal. Her junior year she took the VOE (Vocational Office Education) class taught by Jeanette Thompson, which allowed students to leave school half the day to work. “I interviewed for a job at the City with Charles Thomas, and Carson Joines put in a good word for me.” She was 16 years old and went to work in the tax office under Beth Bonner writing checks, typing minutes and going to the bank and post office. She began her day at City Hall at 8am, went to high school at 11:30am, kept books for John Wayne Thompson’s muffler and tire shop at 3:00pm, then after 5:30pm worked at Chick Inn a few days a week. “My goal was to buy a car! I got one of those long Ford LTDs.”
After graduating high school, Brenda enrolled at Panola College taking business courses. City Hall was in need of a bookkeeper, so Brenda was asked to continue her work while going to Panola. “Charles said at first he didn’t know if I could handle the bookkeeping job because I was so young, but since I had already been working there, he decided he might as well give me a try.” Along with the bookkeeping job, Brenda also became the Assistant Tax Assessor, working with Mabel Morgan. “I didn’t really plan on staying this long at City Hall; life just happens. I started out making $2.50/hour and I was very proud of that $70 I made every two weeks.”
In 1978 she married Barry Samford and, like most couples, after a few years they decided to start a family. In 1980 she delivered their first child, Kristie, but due to complications, the baby only survived a few hours. On a follow-up visit with her doctor, something unusual showed up on a test and it was determined her thyroid gland had to be removed. It was malignant and she was told she had stage 4 cancer. She took a radiation pill several times for the first two years, then once a year for 20 years.
It was time for some good news in their lives. Brenda and Barry decided to adopt a child, but soon discovered it was a very long and complicated process, possibly taking up to two years to get approved. After making three trips to Austin, they were approved within six months, which at the time was unheard of. The adoption agency came for a home visit on a Friday, and by Monday they were told they had a baby ready for them. “I thought somebody was telling me a joke. That’s just God working. That’s all it was.” They traveled to Austin to get Kris and arrived back in Carthage to a big welcoming party of family and friends.
Life was good, but something was out of whack. Brenda’s heart was beating too fast, and it was discovered the doctor had given her too high a dosage of thyroid medication. They also discovered a mass on her pituitary gland. “As many times as I’ve been to the doctor, this was the first surgery that really scared me.” The tumor was located in the center of her forehead which allowed them to go thru the nose to remove it, and it was not malignant.
With that surgery behind them, Barry and Brenda were ready to have another child. “People thought I was crazy because I wanted to get pregnant again after what happened with Kristie.” Michael Cody Samford was born perfectly healthy, four years after Kris arrived. Now with two children, Brenda was ready to be a stay-at-home mom. After a year, she started a travel agency out of their home. With Brenda’s natural business sense and her skills with customer service, the new business thrived quickly. But being good at what you do is not always a blessing. “Booking travel nearly killed me because it was day and night. At midnight I had people knocking on my door to get an airline ticket. I will never forget it. If there was a sale on travel, people couldn’t get through to the airline system, so they would call on us to book it for them. I would get up and never get dressed in the mornings—never eat, never sleep, just to get all those tickets into the system.” After a few years at that pace, they sold the business and Brenda was ready to return to City Hall.
She started back as Administrative Assistant and Charles put her over the Parks. It was a natural fit because her kids were involved with baseball, in Dixie League and on travel teams. Barry took over the Dixie League and between the two of them, the ballparks were improved and finances were moved out of the red.
During her tenure at City Hall, Brenda was promoted to Assistant to the City Manager, then to Deputy City Manager. She was absorbing all the facets of city government and was learning it well. In 2003, Charles had a heart attack and Brenda was asked to step up while he was recovering. She took classes at Stephen F. Austin to become a Certified Public Manager, and when Charles returned to work, he was ready to hand the reins over to Brenda full time. Charles stepped over to run the CEDC/CIC offices.
The first year at the helm, Brenda continued with improvements that were in process when she took the office. One of her biggest accomplishments was working with Charles Thomas to receive the largest grant awarded from the State of Texas in emergency management. The funds were used to turn a building used for recycling into a FEMA shelter and civic center. Additionally, other projects such as the completion of the water plant improvements Phase II and III were completed with the final step being the reconstruction of the clear water well which was a challenge for all involved. Byron Roberts, Supervisor for the plant, had to go to a 24 hour shift in order to supply sufficient water to the public without the use of this storage tank. This was the largest storage tank for water and it had to be completely reconstructed but had to be back in service to meet the water needs of Carthage by the following summer months. “This was accomplished and Byron and I were rejoicing…most never knew the issues involved!”
She worked tirelessly with the Turner Alumni Association in acquiring a grant to demolish the Turner School and rebuild it as a community center, and she was able to facilitate opportunities for new businesses to build on the loop such as Ritter Business Park, new truck stops and several hotels. To further recognize Brenda for her achievements, she was selected as the Regional Citizen of the Year by the East Texas Council of Governments.
Along with sitting behind the desk, Brenda was always willing to volunteer. She worked on numerous boards and committees within the state, and was president of many of them. Locally, she could be seen picking up trash on Clean-Up Day, helping organize vendors at the Oil & Gas Blast, cleaning up tables or moving chairs after events…she was never above doing any work that needed to be done.
One reason for retirement was due to Barry’s health. He suffers from nerve damage that causes extreme pain, and even though he has had various surgeries and treatments, and seen several doctors, he has found no relief. Brenda will now have time to help with exploring other possibilities for treatment.
With her new-found “freedom”, Brenda plans to spend more time with her grandchildren, “I was blessed to be there when all three of them were born, Alex, Evan and Kennedy, plus we have another grandchild due in May. They all call me Nuna, and I got that name from my grandmother, Hazel Hill. That’s what I called her and I just hope to be the same kind of example to my grandkids as she was to me.” Brenda and Barry have plans to go on an Alaskan cruise in May, and spend time in June at their summer vacation spot in Panama City Beach, Florida.
Another love is their Great Danes, Cookie and Thor who were rescue dogs in need of a good home, and they found it with Barry and Brenda! “Barry has done rescue trips taking dogs as far away as California and Nebraska, and now that I’m retired, we hope to make several more of those trips.” Very seldom will you find Brenda inside the house and her dogs are always by her side. She’s always outdoors working in the flowerbeds or garden, or playing with the grandchildren and the dogs.
Brenda has been a strong, Christian woman all her life and has tried to lead by example. She once saw this quote in a doctor’s office and says it describes her life best: God does not give us what we can handle; He helps us handle what we are given.