Friend and colleague Dave Sabatini of the University of Oklahoma's WaTER Center sent me a notice about Michael "Mickey" Sampson's recent death from a heart attack in Thailand, where he was being treated for heart problems.
Dave was a good friend of Sampson's. I did not know Mickey, but had learned of his work through Dave.
Sampson, 43, was founder and director of Resources Development International-Cambodia (RDIC). He is survived by his wife Wendi and their five children.
I had posted on Sampson's work just a few months ago.
Resource Development International-Cambodia is grieved to report the death of Michael Lynn (“Mickey”) Sampson, RDIC Founder and Country Director.
Sampson, 43, had been experiencing health problems. He flew March 18 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to Bangkok, Thailand, for evaluation by a specialist. His untimely death occurred in the early morning of March 19. His body was found at the Bangkok house where he was staying. An autopsy revealed that the cause of death was a heart attack.
Arrangements are being made for returning Dr. Sampson’s body to Cambodia for funeral services. He is survived by parents Jimmy and Diane Sampson, one brother James Sampson, his wife, Wendi, and their children, Michal, Madelyn, Isaiah, Zach, and Datelyn, their Khmai daughter.
Resource Development International-Cambodia would not exist without Mickey Sampson’s vision, dedication, and devotion. He lived and worked in Cambodia with his family since 1998, concentrating most of his efforts on improving drinking water and sanitation for the Cambodian people. One in twelve Cambodian children dies before age 5, primarily from diarrheal disease due to contaminated water.
A native of Louisville, KY, Sampson received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Louisville and taught as an assistant professor of chemistry with the University of Kentucky college system.
He first saw the struggle of Cambodians for clean water in the 1990s while teaching chemistry in Cambodia during a sabbatical year from the University of Kentucky.
One day his wife called Mickey into their bathroom in Cambodia while she was giving their children a bath. The water was only three inches deep, but it was so murky she couldn't see the bottom of the bathtub.
“She said, ‘You know, you're a chemist. Can't you do something about this?’” He told a reporter years later, "It was a turning point in my life." Many others also told Mickey that he should use his skills for helping with the water needs of the poor.
The Sampsons moved to Cambodia permanently in 1998. He worked with other non-governmental organizations to improve water quality. Eventually, however, he started Resource Development International-Cambodia to address Cambodia’s health and development problems in holistic ways. The organization provides education, water testing, water filtration systems, and construction, among other community-development initiatives.
Under Sampson’s leadership, RDIC established a ceramic water filter manufacture and distribution system (manufacturing 25,000 filters in 2008), produced a Cambodian television series for children to promote literacy and healthy living, and worked extensively to alert Cambodians to the risks of drinking arsenic-laden groundwater. RDIC also has developed and implemented agricultural, water, health and educational programs in villages throughout Cambodia.
Mickey believed Cambodian communities would not be transformed for the better without behavioral changes on all levels. The results have shown his methods worked. After two years of using RDIC’s water filtration pots, participating Cambodians were 49 percent less likely to have diarrheal disease than their neighbors without the filters.
Sampson co-authored a number of publications and supported research in partnership with international universities through RDIC's water research laboratory. He also was a member of the technical working group for the Cambodian government concerning how to address the UN’s “Millennium Target” to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.
Mickey was widely known and respected in the international development and academic communities. His work with RDIC has been highlighted by a number of news and media outlets. National Public Radio (NPR) featured his creative campaign to educate Cambodians about unsafe drinking water via karaoke videos in a Jan. 27 profile: Karaoke Videos Teach Safe Water Techniques : NPR.
Friends say "Mickey's faith made him compassionate for the peoples he loved and deeply cared. Countless lives have been touched by this expression of love in their lives."
Mickey Sampson will be mourned and deeply missed by his many friends and colleagues, his family – and the thousands of Cambodians who now live healthy lives because of his work.
I have a pretty good idea where Mickey is right now. I have an even better idea of what he is doing: providing a glass of clean drinking water to someone far less fortunate than he.
"Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me.
The Carriage held but just ourselves
-- Emily Dickinson