Ferrum College Mourns Sam Litton: “The Epitome of ‘Not Self, But Others’”

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Ferrum College Mourns Sam Litton: “The Epitome of ‘Not Self, But Others’”

In fall 2019, Litton received the Distinguished Member award from Nimrod Hall Hunt Club, of which he had been a member for years. In this photo, he stands proudly with his sons Jason (on Litton’s right) and Sean (on his left). John Payne photo.

On June 6, 2020, at the age of 80, former Ferrum College Professor of Biology Sam Litton passed away. 

Litton played high school football at Andrew Lewis High School and then enrolled in Elon College where he earned his bachelors degree. He then enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a corpsman and completed a tour in Vietnam as a medic while serving in the Marines. After discharging from the military, Litton earned his Master of Science in biology from Appalachian State University, and then received his doctorate from the University of Virginia. He married Joan in 1972 and began teaching biology at Ferrum College shortly afterward.

Litton, Joan, and their sons Sean and Jason, spent much of their time traveling all over the United States and Canada. They took students on field trips as near as the Virginia mountains, and as far as the Virgin Islands. 

“He was hunting in this photo, yes. But he was also teaching,” said John Payne, Litton’s former mentee. “He never stopped teaching.”
John Payne photo.

Litton’s friends and colleagues remember him as a professor who created real bonds with his students. “Sam was gifted at connecting with his students. He took them under his wing and mentored them, not just with academics, but with non-academic issues, also,” said former Ferrum College Professor of Biology Ron Stephens. “To describe him as a ‘father-figure’ isn’t enough. He served as a true friend they could trust.”

Litton freely gave his knowledge and time. In 1979, a Ferrum College student wanted to set up a volunteer firefighting organization at the College. Litton worked with the Forest Service and Virginia Department of Forestry to make the student’s vision come true, and more than 50 Ferrum students were trained. That summer, the Ferrum College organization earned outstanding performance ratings when they helped suppress the 6,000 acre Otay Fire in southern California.

He was an avid hunter and outdoorsman. “I always respected and admired his love and knowledge of all things in nature,” said retired Professor of Biology and Horticulture Bob Pohlad. “Sam got the students outside a lot. He enjoyed working with them and helped so many of the students that could relate to his wildlife interests.”

“He particularly liked quail hunting and always had a bird dog or two. We knew every quail covey in the Ferrum area,” remembered Stephens, who used to hunt with Litton.

During his time at Ferrum College, Litton served as president of both the Ferrum Lions Club and the Rocky Mount Rotary Club. After retiring, Litton and Joan moved to Smith Mountain Lake where they entered the real estate business. Litton continued to find daily joy in teaching and learning. 

“I am absolutely blessed that my path crossed with Sam’s,” said Litton’s former mentee John Payne, a 1985 Ferrum College graduate. “He was my advisor then and had a real effect on my life. We were friends for close to 40 years. He was truly a passionate teacher. He was the epitome of ‘Not Self, But Others’.”

Read Litton’s obituary here.


Litton is survived by his wife of 48 years Joan, and his sons Sean and Jason. The family has requested that memorials be made to Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, 65 Rock Ridge Road, Callaway, VA 24067; to Ferrum College, 215 Ferrum Mountain Road, Ferrum, VA 24088; or to Southern Virginia Child Advocacy Center, 300 South Main Street, Rocky Mount, VA 24151.