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Local man who helped eradicate leprosy across globe celebrates 100th birthday

By Taylor Thompson

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    HENDERSON COUNTY, North Carolina (WLOS) — Many friends and family came to the mountains from all over the U.S. to celebrate the accomplishments, life and birthday of John Sams, a man with many titles, this weekend.

They gathered at Point Lookout Vineyards in Henderson County on Sunday, Oct. 30, just a couple days shy of Sams reaching the milestone of becoming a centenarian.

Born in 1922, John Sams — a father, grandfather and great-grandfather — has spent his life caring for others.

His oldest granddaughter, Rabi Whitney described her grandpa as an old soul. She said he has always spent his life working hard to ensure his family was taken care of.

Family goes further than just blood for Sams, as Rabi said he’s the type of person to extend his care to everyone with whom he comes in contact.

That has been shown through all he’s done in his almost century here.

Sams was born on a farm in Iowa, he later joined the service during WWll.

Joining the service landed him in India where he saw a lot of poverty and disease.

His oldest daughter, Phyllis Whitney, said that was when Sams was inspired to go into missionary work.

After serving, he spent the next 14 years with a missionary society where he built schools and hospitals.

He then went to work for American Leprosy Missions, where he ultimately became president in 1984.

“He was president while the cure for leprosy was discovered, so once the cure was discovered he raised $37 million to buy medications,” said Phyllis.

The team managed to reduce the disease as they brought the spread of leprosy from 15 million people down to less than 400,00 people.

“We reduced the number of leprosy patients from 15 million to 400,000 in four years,” Sams told News 13.

Phyllis explained how her dad was instrumental in eradicating the disease around the world as he spent the rest of his career going to over 14 countries to administer the medicine.

His family described Sunday’s celebration as a surreal blessing being able to be back with all of the family.

“It seems like a real privilege and a blessing that everyone was able to come, and we get to see people that I haven’t seen since I was 5 or 6,” said Rabi.

While a lot of time has passed, Rabi said it felt like no time had gone by at all.

Sams will turn 100 years old on Nov. 1, but Phyllis said they decided to celebrate over the weekend in order to have all of the family together.

“I have been so grateful that so much of our family were able to make the journey today,” Phyllis said.

Rabi added that she was thankful they all came together and even more thankful that her grandfather is in a good enough state to be able to enjoy time with family.

She said it’s a very big blessing that she doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s been a wonderful day,” Sams told News 13.

His family was overjoyed to have everyone back together and said they are hopeful Sams will continue to have many more years to come.

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