Sampson, star athlete, ambassador for Lumbee people, dies at age 84

First Posted: 2/19/2014

PEMBROKE — For Glenn Maynor and his brother Leon, John W. “Ned” Sampson was more than just their teacher and basketball coach — he was a friend who inspired them as young Lumbee Indians to work hard so they could accomplish anything they wanted in life.

“He was loved by his students and well respected across the county and state,” said Glenn Maynor, the former county sheriff who was coached in basketball by Sampson at Magnolia High School in the 1960s. “He always expressed the philosophy that a winner never quits and a quitter never wins.”

Sampson, who was known better throughout his later years as “Mr. Ned,” died Tuesday at his home in Pembroke. He was 84 years old.

“He was one of my favorite teachers. He was a special person,” said Leon Maynor, a longtime member of the Lumberton City Council who was also coached in basketball by Sampson. “He always used to tell us that you had to work hard to be successful.

“His favorite saying was that ‘Nobody whips you when you work so hard,’” Maynor said. “While he was referring to athletics, he was also telling us that no one can stop you from achieving what you want out of life if you work hard.”

Sampson was a 1947 graduate of Pembroke Senior High School and a 1953 graduate of Pembroke State College. He coached at Magnolia High School from 1953 to 1967, where he led the school’s boys and girls basketball teams to win Indian High School Athletic Conference championships.

He was a teacher, coach and athletic director at Pembroke Senior High School from 1968 to 1977.

“He was a perfect mentor for me as a beginning coach,” said former Robeson County Athletics Director Ronnie Chavis, who worked with Sampson at Pembroke for 10 years. Chavis was the school’s head baseball coach while Sampson was the school’s basketball coach and athletics director.

“He would give me simple suggestions about how to coach the kids,” Chavis said. “He loved the kids and had a lifelong calling to coach them.”

At Pembroke State College, Sampson was a star athlete in basketball, baseball and football. After a game against a traveling all-star team, Sampson received a letter from Duke All-American Dick Groat who wrote that he was the best basketball player Groat had ever played against.

“I remember that night he beat Dick Groat,” said Joe Oxendine, a former chancellor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and lifelong friend who played basketball with Sampson at Magnolia High School. “He was a great shooter.”

Sampson averaged 24.3 points per game during his senior season at Pembroke State College in 1952, and he scored a long-standing school record 40 points against Campbell University.

At 6 feet, 2 inches and 190 pounds, Sampson was a pure shooter who could use either hand, according to “Playing Before an Overflow Crowd,” a book by Bruce Barton and Tim Brayboy that chronicled the all-Indian basketball league. He was inducted into The University of North Carolina at Pembroke Athletic Hall of Fame for basketball, football and baseball in 1980. He was inducted into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2005 — only the second Lumbee Indian to receive that honor — and in 2009 he was inducted as a charter member of the Robeson County Sports Hall of Fame.

Sampson’s son Kelvin is also a member of UNCP’s Athletic Hall of Fame and the Robeson County Sports Hall of Fame. Kelvin, the former head coach at Oklahoma and Indiana universities, is currently an assistant coach for the Houston Rockets of the NBA.

“Mr. Ned was a great ambassador in so many different roles of his life — husband, dad, coach and friend. He had an unbelievable passion for UNC Pembroke and is still considered one of our all-time great athletes,” said Dan Kenney, former head basketball coach and former athletics director at UNCP. “He influenced so many different people in this community, and I personally feel blessed to have been one of those individuals that he touched and guided.”

Chavis called Sampson a “great ambassador for the Lumbee people” — noticeable as integration of the public schools took place.

“To Ned, everyone who wore a uniform was the same,” Chavis said. “He didn’t care if you were white, black, or Indian.”

Chavis said Sampson in 1956 started a Babe Ruth League consisting of the region’s American Indian schools and successfully got an American Indian all-star team into the state’s All-Star Babe Ruth Tournament. Two years later, Chavis said, Sampson formed an American Legion summer league just for American Indians.

“He was a real trailblazer for Lumbee Indians through athletics,” Chavis said.

Sampson was a charter member and president emeritus of the Pembroke Lions Club. He also was a deacon and a lifelong member of Berea Baptist Church in Pembroke.

“He was just a great guy,” said retired Superior Court Judge Gary Locklear. “I knew him through the church. I never heard him raise his voice and he had an air about him that when he walked into a room you could tell that in his younger days he was an athlete … . He was a role model for young Lumbee men if there ever was one.”

Delton Locklear of Pembroke, a lifelong friend of Sampson’s, could not remember anyone ever saying a “negative word” about Sampson. He also said that during the many years that Sampson’s health was poor, his friend remained upbeat and continued to enjoy life.

“He had the best attitude,” Locklear said. “He would always be smiling and in the best of moods.”

Sampson was the grand marshal of the Lumbee Tribe’s homecoming parade in 2010. That same year the 29th annual Lumbee Homecoming 5K run and fun walk was held in his honor.

An endowed scholarship for a basketball player has been established in Sampson’s honor at UNCP. He also was a long-time member of the Purnell Swett High School Booster Club, and helped re-start the football program at UNCP, making many public appearances with former players.

Sampson’s wife Eva Brewington Sampson, who worked for 30 years as UNCP’s director of student health, died Jan. 11. The couple would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on Feb. 6.

A funeral for Sampson will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Berea Baptist Church, with the Rev. Chris Hunt officiating. Burial will follow in the Lumbee Memorial Gardens.

The family will receive friends today from 7 to 9 p.m. at Locklear and Son Funeral Home. Online condolences can be made at

A complete obituary can be found in today’s newspaper on Page 6A.