Sam Wayne Duncan, American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) alumnus, passed away suddenly on November 4, 2021, at the age of 81, in Berkeley, California.
Sam was born on October 2, 1940 to Wilfred and Evelyn Duncan. He and his older brother, James Lowell, were raised in West Plains, Missouri. The family was very close and Sam and Lowell were emphatically taught the difference between right and wrong, as it relates to an individual’s behavior. His father particularly emphasized, through words and action, the necessity of being aware of the feelings of others, and of showing consideration for them.
When Sam was around eight years old he read a book mentioning someone who went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to become an engineer. He decided then that’s where he would go.
At school Sam played the trombone in the marching band and was on the basketball team. He behaved well and got along well with other students, trying to make his parents feel proud of him rather than embarrass them. He did well in school and was the valedictorian of his high school class.
Sam always credited his parents for instilling in him the knowledge that different people know different things and that he was not better than others even if he was the best student. One of the most important influences on his life came from when he was a small child and his mother sang him the song “My Darling Nellie Gray” about slavery separating a family. He could never understand how any human being could do that to another.
In 1958, Sam entered MIT on a full scholarship majoring in mathematics. He took every class he could find that had to do with computers and in 1962 he graduated with a degree in mathematics. He then moved to Pomona, California to work for an aerospace company as a research engineer and went on to take graduate classes at USC in southern California. During this time, he began attending the First Baptist Church of Pomona and found a truly Christ-centered outlook. In his application for missionary service Sam wrote: “Within a few months I realized that I had taken Christ too much for granted and had given Him nothing to work with in my life.” The pastor, Dr. Edward Cole, and the minister to young adults, Rev. William Tipton, were a great influence on Sam’s life and attitudes at that time.
Sam met Beverly Nagel at the First Baptist Church of Pomona and in January 1964 they were married.
While working at the aerospace company, Sam realized that the project goals really translated into making a missile more accurate in targeting, and therefore more adept at killing people. He always hated, later in life, that the surface-to-air missile that shot down an Iran air flight in the 1980s was one that he had worked on.
He thought that he would be able to teach and wanted to use his skills where they were most needed, and so Sam and Beverly applied for service with ABFMS as teachers. On January 23, 1968 Sam and Beverly were appointed missionaries with the ABFMS designated to serve in Zaire. They had their first child, Jennifer, in March 1968.
On July 30, 1970, after a year in Belgium studying French, Sam, Beverly, and Jennifer sailed to Zaire. Sam was assigned by the Baptist Convention of Western Zaire (CBZO) to teach in the Institut Pedagogique Evangelique (IPE) in Kimpese. Sam served in several capacities at the school. He taught math, physics, and descriptive geometry, was financial advisor, payroll master for five schools, and interim director of the school.
Sam and Ron Taylor (a fellow ABFMS missionary) taught the students how to play basketball. They trained them so well that their team was able to beat a high school team based in the capital. The Zairian kids called Sam “Pele” after the soccer great, because he could do things with a basketball that they’d never seen before.
During their two terms in Zaire, Sam and Beverly welcomed their second child, Craig, born in August 1971 and their third child, Heather in July 1974. In July 1979 the family left Zaire and settled in Missouri. Sam worked as a computer engineer and taught some evening classes.
The ABFMS asked Sam to consider going to the Philippines were there was a need at Central Philippine University (CPU). They university had been given a computer by the government, but no one knew how to program it. Sam would set up the computer program for the university and start a computer science program. The Duncan family left for the Philippines in August 1981.
While at CPU, Sam ran the entire institution’s registration on a TRS-8-, a computer with a fraction of the computing power found in modern smartphones. He also authored a couple of books on Basic, Fortran, and Cobol programming languages. They spent three years at CPU. The Computer Center evolved from two computers in 1981 to forty by July 1984. Five computer courses were offered, many taught by Sam, with over 1,600 people taking these courses during the three years.
In 1984, the Duncan’s returned to the US, this time to Valley Forge, PA. Sam and Beverly wrote in a 1984 letter: “Even though the past year was very hectic for us, we definitely felt that God was leading us through the changes…. We are now ready for another phase of mission work as we continue our service here in Valley Forge. As we think back over our terms in Zaire and the Philippines, we realize that the most rewarding aspect of our lives has been the many friends we have made. We belong to a very special family that cuts across race, languages, and national boundaries.” Sam then became the director for the Computer Center for American Baptist Churches USA. He remained at the Computer Center until he retired in 2013.
In PA, Sam was a member of the church choirs at Lower Providence Baptist Church and then later at Royersford Baptist Church (RBC). He took part in many plays including a starring role in “The Fantasticks.”
Following his divorce from Beverly in 1994, Sam remarried in June 1995, to Anne Clark, until their eventual divorce in 2005.
During these years, Sam taught quantitative analysis in the adult undergraduate program at Eastern University. He also rewrote the statistics curriculum and textbook for them.
In 2007, Sam met Eva Sherman, his partner until the end of his life.
After Sam retired from the Computer Center in 2013, he spent a year helping care for his youngest daughter, receiving ketamine infusions for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). At the end of the year, Sam and Eva moved to Berkeley, CA where Sam volunteered at Ashby Village (AV), a not-for-profit devoted to helping older people stay in their homes. Sam helped AV members with their computer, phone and other tech issues and also helped AV staff with their network and other tech issues. Retired or not, Sam was an untiring and relentless problem solver, always in the service of others
Sam touched many people’s lives, in many ways, across several continents. He lived an exuberantly intellectually-curious, service-minded, social-progressive, and humor-filled life.
Sam is survived by his partner Eva; his children: Jennifer, Craig, and Heather Duncan; his granddaughter, Jessie Duncan; several nieces and a nephew.
A memorial service for Sam is being held on Saturday, December 18, 2021 at 2:30pm at the Royersford Baptist Church, 452 Lewis Road, Royersford, PA. It will be a time of remembering Sam, his life, and his ministry. The memorial service can also be attended virtually via this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xAS61GtcM8.