Story By Claire K. Connelly
Photography By Megan Fogel

Remember waiting for the ice cream truck? Remember the distant tinkling of the bells and the good feeling you had when you saw the truck coming around the corner?

In the Ocean Isle Beach/Sunset Beach area, there’s a similar feeling when the familiar brown UPS truck comes into view. It means that Sam, the driver, spreader of happiness, is on his way. His jaunty walk, ever-present smile and sincere greeting put everyone on the path to a better day.

It seems like everybody around here knows Sam. “What a guy,” they say. “He’s amazing.” “Been around here for years.” “Cannot imagine UPS without him.”

In this area, Sam is a household word. If he is absent from his route, everyone worries. He has a warm and loving hold on us all. He has our trust and caring and he returns both in large quantities. Everyone around here wonders about Sam’s life outside of his job, about what makes him so positive every day.

His name is Samuel Grady, Jr. He was born in the Wilmington area, one of eight children — five boys and three girls — and he has remained in the area ever since. He has been the faithful UPS driver in this area for 25 years, but joined the company in 1974. He works long days, and yet the smile never leaves his face. Most days, except for the holiday period, he works nine hours on average.

Sam enjoys his job and describes it with total satisfaction. To him it’s all about giving good service and making a difference in the lives of others every day. His daily goal is to make a positive impact on everyone he sees with a few kind words — and that smile.

Sam knows that he may well be one person’s only contact that day and he wants to leave them in a cheerful mode and start their day on the right note. Each day he makes a choice to be positive and stay positive, even though there may be “speed bumps” as he calls them. He refuses to give in to them.

“All day, every day, I take the bad with the good and convert it, regardless,” Sam says.

So that’s why everyone looks forward to seeing him daily and why we always feel better after even a few words with him. He leaves his solid gold attitude in his wake.

Sam and his wife, Sheila, have two children — a daughter, Alyesha, a college student, and a teenaged son, Michael. Sheila is a pre-K teacher’s assistant in the Wilmington area. Two pets round out the family: Snuggles the family cat, who one day just showed up at the house and decided to stay, and Benny, a beloved long-haired dachshund, who was a rescue dog.

Church is the focal point of Sam’s life, and most often he can be found at his church for choir rehearsals. He is involved with many of the programs and activities at St. James AME Church in Castle Hayne. He sings in all five of their choirs and works with the Sunday school program.

Growing up with church attendance was an important part of his life and continues to be so. Sam feels it is important for his children to be involved in church as he was as a child. The church helps cement the family and their values and is a happy, positive part of their lives.

Sam says he sees changes in family structure today, as opposed to when he was growing up. He feels that independence has made people not as dependent on the family unit as they were in the past.

“You were a total family unit then and you really knew your world,” he says.

Whenever Sam hears someone complaining that their retirement is boring, with nothing to do, he always recommends that they join a church where they will find themselves with multiple jobs and more to do each day than can be imagined.

Sam loves to discuss what he calls his “daily ritual,” which has remained unchanged for as many years as he can remember. It is normally an early morning ritual. The daily newspaper is delivered to his home. He retrieves it and brings it inside. He sets it aside in a “wait there” position, then begins his daily Bible reading, which balances his day. Only after the reading will the newspaper be taken in hand, usually with a cup of coffee, and enjoyed. The only change in this ritual is that some days it unfolds at the end of his day rather than at the beginning, due to his work schedule.

Sam says there is no place on earth he’d rather be than in the Wilmington area.

“There is no better place to live than right here in Wilmington,” he says.

Plus, he feels that what is within you creates your happiness, wherever you are.

It is not surprising that the Sam we know from his UPS route is such a happy and well-rounded man in all areas of his life. He inspires us in so many ways with his colorful thoughts and sentiments, and we look forward to many more years of waiting for the brown truck to appear — with Sam behind the wheel!