published Friday, January 21st, 2011

'Tech hero' Sam Hill was a teacher and mentor to many

Tech Talk

by Donnie Jenkins

Today I'm beginning an occasional series of columns featuring local "tech heroes," people who have made their marks in the world of personal technology and who have guided others through their efforts. Ironically, it was the loss of a great teacher and friend that gave rise to this idea.

The concept of mentoring has been long honored in our country. In fact, it may well be one of the defining properties of our nation, as we have always emphasized schools, libraries and continuing education.

I lost a valuable mentor and a lifelong friend recently. Sam Hill of Cleveland, Tenn., passed away last week. I've given a lot of thought to just how much I learned from this great man.

He was an accomplished musician and a pioneering "tech guy" of our area. Sam was born in the time of the Great Depression, and like so many from that era he had mastered the art of using whatever he had to its greatest advantage.

Here are some lessons I was able to learn from how he lived. These principles have served me well in my tech career:

n Be versatile. During his life, Sam excelled at playing guitar, auto body repair, guitar construction and maintenance, electronics work, and was an expert airplane pilot. In fact, he took me up for my first flight in a small-engine airplane.

n Focus. While Sam could divide his work into various areas, he never divided his focus once he began working. One of my favorite memories of him concerns his years as an automobile body repairman. People would come by his shop all day long to chat, but he never missed a beat in his work.

n Be persistent. I've seen Sam literally bang his hands almost into pulp, refusing to quit until the job was done. I especially admired how he could manifest unending patience when doing demanding work on guitars.

n Finish what you start. This may be his greatest lesson for me, as I was notorious in my younger days for "attempting everything but accomplishing nothing." He always concentrated on the end result above all else.

n Be social. I played with Sam in various bands over the course of 14 years, and almost every day during that time we had breakfast and lunch together. I would inevitably be entertained by the large number of people who would engage him in conversation. More times than not, this would consist of pleas for advice.

n Share what you know. Sam taught more people more things than anyone else I ever met, primarily because he was so versatile and also so willing to help. When I became interested in computers, one aspect that attracted me was that there were so many people involved who would share their knowledge, much like Sam.

n Get something started. Sam was a pioneer in performing music on early radio shows here and in Virginia. One of his great gifts to us was that he helped Brenda Lee, and many others, get breaks in their early careers. While he never gained any national recognition, he aided several people who did.

I am truly thankful that I can now answer an age-old question: I know exactly what the Sam Hill is going on, and I am grateful for it.

E-mail Donnie Jenkins at

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