Sammy Ray Bryant, 1933-2024
Sammy Ray Bryant, beloved husband, father and grandfather, died Jan. 31 after complications following surgery and a struggle with dementia. The native Kentuckian and longtime Polk County resident was 90 years old.
Sam was unfailingly kind, adventurous and eager for new experiences. He loved sailing, traveling with his wife, spending time with family, and had a great appreciation for grouper sandwiches, banana pudding and a glass of “good red wine.”
He worked for decades as chief chemist at the phosphate mine at Nichols.
Born Sept. 5, 1933, in Pulaski, Ky., to Lonnie Arizona and Thelma Fitzgerald Bryant, Sam was the youngest of five sons. Growing up in Burnside, Ky., his brothers loved trying out their projects on him, plopping him in the seat of a homemade go-cart and setting him off downhill. Sam, who was 5’8”, loved telling how in high school he was known for his speed on the basketball court.
The boy who grew up “gigging” frogs to bring home to his mother’s kitchen graduated in 1957 from Berea College in Berea, Ky., with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He made his way to Florida to run the lab at the phosphate mine then owned by Virginia-Carolina Chemical Corp. (later, Mobil). There he met Blanche Eastman of Mulberry, whom he married on Dec. 16, 1961. They settled in Bartow and later moved in retirement to Homeland.
Their adventures in boating started in the ’70s with a tiny green houseboat they took all around Florida’s lakes and Keys. He learned to navigate by the stars, to scuba dive and to sail. Sam and Blanche later traveled all over the world, with Sam charming the people he met with his good-heartedness and optimism, often despite the barriers of language. As his son-in-law said, “Sam never met a stranger.” A longtime friend noted: “Everybody loved Sammy.”
He was devoted to family and loved being with his grandsons, who saw him as “an absolute legend.” Sam lit up talking about his upbringing in Kentucky, making hardship seem like an adventure.
Sam never forgot the value of a dollar, and could reduce a car salesman to tears. Yet he quietly donated money to multiple causes. He also served as past president of Bartow Kiwanis Club and the Florida Phosphate Chemist Association and as past commander of the Lakeland Sail and Power Squadron.
He was raised in the Baptist church and though he did not attend church later in life, retained his Christian faith.
Sam was preceded in death by his brothers: James, Paul, Conard and Dudley. He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Blanche Bryant of Homeland, Fla; daughter Rebecca Bryant Mohan and son-in-law Geoff Mohan of La Cresenta, Calif; and two grandsons: Bryant Mohan of New York, N.Y., and Liam Mohan of Los Angeles, Calif .; sisters-in-law Georgia Ann Eastman Stuart and Cindi Beahm; and numerous nieces and nephews.
The Family will recieve friends from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm Saturday, February 10, 2024 Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 500 W Stuart St in Bartow, FL. A Celebration of Sammy's Life will follow at 4:00 pm at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Bartow.
Memorials may be made to Berea College at berea.edu.
Condolences to family at http://www.whiddenmcleanfuneralhome.com