Posted on: February 2, 2021
Samuel Rowe Marney, Jr. died peacefully at home under Hospice care in the early morning of January 7, 2021. His daughter, Annis, was by his side.
Sam was born to Frances Moorman Marney and Samuel Rowe Marney on February 15, 1934 in Bristol, Virginia. He was a truly well-rounded person: an excellent student, a musician who played oboe and sang in choirs, an athlete, and a Boy Scout who earned the rank of Eagle Scout and Order of the Arrow. He was elected President of the State of Virginia Beta Club Honor Society while in high school and was the Valedictorian of Virginia High School. He famously (infamously) turned down the Angier B. Duke Scholarship to Duke University in favor of accepting the Jefferson Scholarship to the University of Virginia. When he told his mother that he planned to attend UVA, his mother sat up and declared, “I’d just as soon send you straight to Hell.” Nevertheless, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UVA before matriculating to the College of Medicine. While at UVA, Sam was a member of the Virginia Gentlemen Chorus, the Raven Society, the Imp Society, The Thirteen Society, and Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK).
Dr. Marney served for 2 years in the Air Force, earning the rank of Captain, and his brief military career took him to Korea, instilling a lasting love of the far East. When he returned to the US, he completed his medical training in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University where he spent the majority of his career. While on a visit home to Bristol in 1966 to visit family, he was set up on a blind date with Betty Bingham by his mother and her grandmother. After arguing politics during the date, the following morning he told his mother that he had met the woman he would marry. And they did. Sam and Betty married in 1966 and celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary on October 1, 2019.
Sam and Betty spent a year in Oxford, England, while he did Hematology research from 1967-1968, and while there, delivered their son Sam in 1968. After returning to Nashville, their daughter Annis was born in 1970.
Dr. Marney had a long and distinguished academic medical career. He made lifelong friends during residency including Denny Crews, Larry Wolfe, Bob Alford, and John Sergent. He avidly played tennis and handball and looked back fondly on those training years. Although he initially began training in infectious diseases, he was asked by the Chairman of Medicine, Dr. Grant Liddle, to “babysit” the Allergy Clinic while they recruited a head of Allergy. With the approval of his first research mentor and dear friend, Dr. Roger Des Prez, he accepted the new position, and Sam ultimately took over the Allergy Clinic and learned as he went along. In order to call himself a “real” Immunologist, he spent a year studying Immunology at Scripps in La Jolla, California, from 1973-1974, and then returned to Nashville as the Head of Allergy (at the time, a division of one). Sam fostered the Division and watched it grow over the next 40 years. He served as the Fellowship Director for 30 of those years. Teaching and mentoring medical students, Residents, and Allergy and Immunology Fellows were some of the greatest joys of his career. Many of his trainees also became dear friends, including Bobo Tanner, Stokes Peebles, and John Farenholz. He participated enthusiastically in the Southeastern Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Society, serving as President 1986-1987, and the Society presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. In 2010, upon his retirement, the first annual Sam Marney Award for Excellence in Allergy and Immunology Training was bestowed.
Sam was also a master clinician, or a “doctor’s doctor.” He worked with Dr. John Oates, the first head of Clinical Pharmacology and later Chairman of Medicine, on understanding mast cell activation, and people travelled across the country for help treating mastocytosis. He developed relationships with patients that showed tremendous compassion, humor, warmth, and kindness. He remembered life details that showed a depth of caring above and beyond the usual standards. He took time to talk at length with his patients and truly enjoyed knowing them and they him. He worked at both Vanderbilt and at the VA Hospital for his entire career, almost always sporting one of his trademark bowties which he wore so that he could get close to his patients without fabric flopping all over them. Turns out he was ahead of his time in this respect, as long ties have since been shown in research studies to carry germs. For better or for worse, Nashville is a place where many people have allergies, and Sam and Betty used to joke every August that in order to keep the allergy business booming, he would go out and water the ragweed and golden rod.
Sam sang tenor in the West End United Methodist Church for nearly 50 years, from 1961 until 2010. He loved organ music, in particular. He rarely missed choir practice (Thursday evenings) or Sunday services. He served on the music committee several times and chaired the committee when they found a choir director and dear friend Don Marler. Don remembers Sam fondly and describes how music spoke deeply to Sam and helped express the inexpressible. Sam frequently wept during beautiful music. He and Betty also loved opera and enjoyed attending in both Nashville and New York. Sam’s love of music was closely related to his love of words and he delighted in being a member of Nashville’s Shakespeare Club and discussing plays and poetry.
Sam and Betty made lifelong friends with Dona and Herschel Gower while in Oxford and enjoyed many weekends and holidays together at the Gower cottage in Beersheba Springs, Tennessee. They also made lifelong friends with David and Kay Hall and enjoyed getaways with the Halls at their Sewanee house. Sam retired in 2009 from Vanderbilt, and he and Betty enjoyed many years of local and international travel. They were regulars at the Snowbird Lodge in western North Carolina for many years. They visited every continent except for Antarctica. He and Betty also enjoyed playing bridge. They had a neighborhood group that played regularly, and Sam also enjoyed playing at the choir retreats. Sam was an amateur gardener and adored flowers. He and Betty fed the birds and loved to sit outside anytime weather permitted.
Sam loved his grandchildren and took great pleasure in their accomplishments. As a former oboe player and choir member, he closely followed their musical interests and loved hearing them play instruments. He also tried to inculcate them regarding the finest foods. Sam loved strawberries above all other foods. The perfect dessert was strawberries and homemade whipped cream. His love of strawberries was matched only by his pure hatred for raspberries — a mystery of the universe.
People have always described Dr. Marney as the consummate gentleman. He was kind, gracious, and was known for his quick wit and charm.
Sam suffered a series of medical setbacks over the past 2 years and was under Hospice care when he died. He was mercifully at home during the pandemic, and he was grateful for that. The love of his life, Betty, died unexpectedly in May, 2020, and he was heartbroken. He and his family have been profoundly thankful for the help of so many caregivers from Touching Hearts who took excellent care of him with true compassion. Sam and his family have also been thankful to the providers and staff at Alive Hospice, who facilitated his staying at home.
He is survived by his son Samuel Rowe Marney, III of Memphis and granddaughters Dylan Elizabeth Marney and Alexis Quinn Marney and their mother Tara Gruet Marney; his daughter Annis Morison Marney and her husband Glenn Gustus Dukes, Jr., of Nashville and their children Ian Marney Dukes and Annis Kyle (AK) Morison Dukes; and his sister Nancy Marney, of Bristol, Virginia.
Due to the pandemic, a small, private funeral service was held in the outdoor courtyard of West End United Methodist Church on Saturday, January 16. Reverend Carol Cavin-Dillon, who had been a student of Betty’s at Harpeth Hall and who presided over Betty’s service, also conducted Sam’s service. Sam’s family is enormously grateful to Carol for her ministry during this difficult time.
Memorial gifts may be made to the West End United Methodist Church General or Music Fund, the Vanderbilt University Canby Robinson Society, or the Beersheba Springs Medical Clinic.