CANTON — As images of a smiling, vibrant young woman scrolled across two screens set up in the Canton Central School gymnasium, hundreds of friends and relatives of Samantha “Sami” M. Curtis gathered Sunday to share memories, celebrate her life and unify as a community in her honor.
Sami, a recent graduate of Hugh C. Williams High School and prominent community member, passed away on Thursday after a two-year battle with cancer. She was 18.
While tears were shed Sunday afternoon and again Monday morning, there were countless uplifting recollections passed between those in attendance to soften the emotional blow of a loved one lost.
Although Sami touched virtually anyone she came into contact with, her brother EJ explained that her final days needed to be private. There were simply too many people for her to do everyone justice.
“Although Sami Strong will live on forever in our hearts and minds, the reality is that Sami was only human,” he said to the packed gymnasium. “If you look around and see the number of people who wanted to say goodbye, you will begin to understand why Samantha knew that she did not have the energy to say goodbye to you all and still be able to climb that final mountain.”
In the eyes of her brother and the rest of her family, Sami was tougher than cancer ever could be. Mr. Curtis said many people like to talk about the fight against cancer, but his sister viewed it differently.
“To Samantha, there was no fight. She saw cancer as a hurdle that was in her path,” he said. “When one of us runs up to a hurdle, we are very much aware that there are two options. You can jump over it or you can fail. When Samantha came up against cancer, however, she decided she would make herself a third option. She did not just overcome cancer. She definitely did not let it hold her down. She just kept on running and living her life as if it wasn’t even there.”
Canton Central School Athletic Director William Porter, who spoke at Sunday’s celebration of life event, told the crowd of Sami’s selflessness. Even in her final days, he explained, Sami was working to make things easier on her family.
“Samantha Curtis, at the young age of 18, had meticulously planned every event for her family leading up to and following her passing, including packing all of her clothing neatly in her dresser and gathering all of the items to be on display around the room this afternoon,” Mr. Porter said. “This is the type of soul she was. Even in her last moments, she was consistently thinking of others.”
Mr. Porter then recalled a moment Sami’s father, Jim Curtis, had shared with his daughter before her passing. One night, after being picked up by Mr. Curtis from an evening of mingling with friends, Sami asked her father, ‘Daddy, do you think that I touched a lot of people’s lives?’”
Mr. Porter went on to recall many of Sami’s accolades, including recognition from the coaches of Section 10 for her character and perseverance, being presented the New York State Senate Liberty Medal for valor and selflessness by the state Senate, recognition from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for raising in excess of $100,000 for the St. Lawrence County Cancer Fund, and most recently, on May 9, the state Senate recognized Sami again with the New York State Woman of Distinction award for her “profile in courage and a source of inspiration to the people of the North Country and the Empire State.”
“Sami, to answer the question you asked your dad in the front seat of his truck on that evening, ‘Daddy, do you think I touched a lot of people’s lives?’ The answer is a clear and resounding yes,” he said.
Sami’s cousin, John P. O’Connor, noted that Sami was the perfect hunting and fishing partner, baker, amateur golf partner, horseback rider and much more. He described Sami as perpetually active.
“Sami didn’t have a dial that you could turn up and down. It was a switch, and that switch was broken because it was always on,” he said. “Sami could do more in a day than the rest of us could in a year. But it was never really just about herself, it was about everyone around her.”
Nicole Curtis, another cousin of Sami, said even in her final weeks, Sami was focused squarely on those around her. This was confirmed during a gathering of her siblings and cousins, called by Sami, during which time she explained that she was at peace and was ready to see her mother, Terri A. Sgroi Curtis, who passed away in 2002 after also battling cancer. After explaining her inner peace, Sami wanted to know what she could do to ease the minds of her loved ones.
“She just wanted to make sure we were going to be OK. And that is just who Sam was,” Nicole Curtis said. “Although her life was cut short, it was so, so incredibly full. I think the best thing she has left behind for us is her example.”
Mr. Porter thanked Sami for enhancing his life and the lives of everyone else she interacted with. He described Sami as empathetic, caring, compassionate, nurturing and healing and called her an instrumental member of the community.
“They say that it takes a village to raise a child. I think in this case it is safe to say sometimes it takes a child to raise a village,” Mr. Porter said.
Before concluding, he shared with the crowd Mr. Curtis’ explanation of Sami’s departure.
“God didn’t take her away from us. God gifted us, for 18 years, with Samantha.”