Dr. Sam: Physician, rancher, banker, and hospital advocate dies at 76
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: January 31, 2014
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
Affectionately known as Dr. Sam, the towering Sam Edwards was unique, a physician with a true devotion to humanity, widely admired business acumen, hospital administrator, sharp negotiator and financial analyst, banker, rancher and a lover of paleontology, among other interests.
When private mismanagement forced Santa Paula Memorial Hospital into bankruptcy, shuttering the hospital in 2003, Dr. Sam worked with community partners that helped convince Ventura County that purchasing and reopening the facility would not only be what was best for the river valley but also a sound financial move.
Dr. Sam passed Saturday, January 25, 2014 at his Santa Paula ranch, following a long illness. He was 76.
“He always had this country doctor presence about him,” said Supervisor Kathy Long although “We all knew and appreciated expertise and very strong academic skills set... he was able to talk to everyone and listen to everybody and engage people in why we should have healthcare for all - Dr. Sam was probably a leader in that - without using those words.
“He was a nice man, a nice family man,” that Long said educated her about county healthcare issues “when I started in 1991 on the other side of the office. He made the complex easily understandable, he was so patient and had a real passion for healthcare,” that led to him being paramount of the county system overcoming a potential financial disaster in the mid-1980s when it faced a $40 million deficit.
Not only were Dr. Sam and then Healthcare Agency Director Pierre Durand credited with saving the county system but also for making it successful and creating a model now copied by others.
Said Long, “Of course, Dr. Sam made us all well aware of the value of the investment in Santa Paula Hospital, not only financially but in the 50,000 river valley residents that desperately needed it... he was the champion of it and made sure that all would see the benefit of it.”
Edwards was born in Santa Barbara to a family in the agricultural business including ranch lands in Santa Paula. He grew up in Marysville and attended prep school in Dedham, Mass.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in biology from Harvard - where he worked in the lab side-by-side with fellow student and future wife Marcia -he graduated from USC’s medical school in 1964, was an intern at Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia and completed a residency at UC San Francisco.
After service as a ship’s doctor in the Navy during the Vietnam War, he did advanced training in cardiology in San Francisco.
Edwards began practicing medicine in Santa Paula in 1971. He oversaw the family’s agriculture business throughout his career as a private physician, was a director of Citizens State Bank and later Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, and hospital administrator in the county health system.
“Neither of his parents graduated from college,” and Marcia Edwards said “close family friends,” inspired Dr. Sam’s interest in medicine but it was family ties that kept him devoted to ranching.
The couple married in 1961, two days after they graduated from Harvard, where Marcia said, “We had happy times... “
Former Santa Paula Mayor Mary Ann Krause started working with Dr. Sam in 1997 when she sat on a health agency oversight committee.
“He was just a really good conciliatory source on the committee, listening to peoples’ concerns, making sure people were addressing each other and hearing what the real issues were,” regarding agency expansions, contracts and other issues.
Later, after the hospital bankruptcy the city worked with Fillmore and other stakeholders in trying to avoid the closure, Dr. Sam, who also urged the county to purchase the facility, was brought in to oversee the reopening.
“He was the driving force, he had the vision of what needed to happen to make the hospital viable,” said Krause, and “To make it comparable to Ventura County Medical Center in terms of quality.”
Krause said Dr. Sam worked with doctors leery of the county: “He was the one that made them understand that the county facilities were first rate,” and brought them back to SPH.
All the while Edwards was heavily involved in the family ranching operation that had spanned generations.
He served as a board member of the Santa Paula-based Limoneira Co. for more than two decades - after the family’s family interests merged with the company - stepping down as chairman in 2004 when his son Harold Edwards became President/CEO.
Harold said his father “Always talked about Santa Paula a lot... he was heavily biased and influenced by his father and grandfather. They felt this was the most beautiful place in the world,” as did his parents, who lived in the family home built by Dr. Sam’s ancestors.
“It’s where I grew up, where my brother Charles grew up,” and where his parents have lived since they moved to the area in 1971 when Dr. Sam established his practice locally.
Harold, a 5th generation Santa Paulan, said his ancestors passed on to his father the appreciation of Santa Paula’s beauty and strong sense of community.
“They really drove home the theme of community service and my folks thought it was a massive opportunity to come and integrate in the tradition of Dad’s father and grandfather.
Dr. Sam said Harold, “was a great Dad, he made being a kid a lot of fun. He worked very hard to provide my brother and I with education, but also get us excited about the world being limitless... at a very early age he taught us to be individualistic, to stand on our own.”
Harold admitted that as a child he didn’t always understand his father’s devotion to mcommunity but as he grew older he recognized and appreciated Dr. Sam as “One of the most selfless community givers I’ve ever known... his passion for healthcare, his efforts to reopen Santa Paula Hospital, and I became a huge fan of what he did to advance healthcare countywide.”
Harold said his father was multi-faceted but “One of the things that really made him unique was he was one of those rare doctors that had really good business acumen and could break it down to terms people could understand. And one of the most courageous things he did was in 1985,” when with Jack Dickenson his father orchestrated the merger of the family holdings into Limoneira Co.
“That was not an easy thing to do with a multitude of consensus,” from family members but, “In my humble opinion he is credited with making the family business perpetually sustainable.”
Said Harold, “The stories I hear from people that knew my dad are endless and I am very proud of what - and all - he did.”
Said Supervisor Long, “Dr. Sam’s passing is a great loss for the community but what a great treasure he’s been all these years for the county and Santa Paula... he left his mark and is a part of our history.”
Although graduating pre-med and from a family of physicians, Marcia devoted herself to husband, family and community service.
“I had the opportunity to have my own career... we shared an awful lot of our lives,” said Marcia. “And it was a real blessing I had pieces of all of his chapters... I’ve always been in awe of what he accomplished and what he could do.
“He’s been my best friend for over 50 years,” said Marcia, “what a joy.”
The Chamber of Commerce established the Dr. Sam Edwards Special Achievement Award in his honor years ago and the Santa Clara Valley Wellness Foundation formed an intern program named for Dr. Sam.
Besides his son and wife Marcia, his son Charles of Longmont, Colo.; six grandchildren also survive Dr. Sam.
Services are tentatively scheduled Feb. 22 at 10:30 a.m. at a Santa Paula location to be announced later. A reception will follow at Limoneira Co.
The family asks that memorial donations be made to: Limoneira Foundation, 1141 Cummings Road, Santa Paula, CA 93060; Santa Clara Valley Wellness Foundation, Note in memo line: FBO Santa Paula Hospital in honor of Dr. Edwards, PO Box 348, Santa Paula, CA 93061; VCMC Auxiliary, note in memo line: Dr. Sam Edwards Nursing Scholarship
Attention of Debbie Hill, 3291 Loma Vista Road, Ventura, CA 93003.