Photo by Amanda Brickell Bellows

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Sam Olden

Sam Olden is from Yazoo City, the Gateway to the Mississippi Delta, where he was born in 1919 to a family of Mississippi planters. He received a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Mississippi at Oxford and was ultimately recruited to Washington, D.C., to serve at the Department of State. Prior to American involvement in World War II, Mr. Olden was sent abroad as the Vice Consul at the U.S. embassy in Quito, Ecuador, from 1941 to 1943. Upon his return, Mr. Olden enlisted in the United States Navy, serving from 1943-46 at posts ranging from Shanghai, China, to Paris, France. After the war, Mr. Olden was invited to join the newly formed Central Intelligence Group. Beginning in 1947, Mr. Olden spent two years in the group’s Washington office, followed by three years in Vienna, Austria, where he defended freedom and democracy against Communist aggression.

Following a decade in public service, Mr. Olden entered the private sector, where he employed his experience abroad for a predecessor of Exxon Mobil. From 1952-57, he was posted in East and West Nigeria, British and French Cameroon, the Congo, Chad, and Gabon. He joined Mobil’s government relations department in 1957 and returned to New York. There, he attained Observer status at the United Nations and strode the halls with Adlai Stevenson and Eleanor Roosevelt. Later, he went abroad once more to serve as general manager of Mobil’s affiliates in Tunisia, Algeria, Peru, and Spain.

In 1974, Sam chose to retire to the finest place that he had ever lived: Yazoo City. There he owned and operated a cattle ranch for fifteen years while continuing to pursue his passion for the study of history. He was twice a board member and was elected president of the Mississippi Historical Society, served fifteen years on the State Committee for the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, and founded the Yazoo Historical Society’s remarkable museum—housed in the same Triangle Center building where he had attended elementary school. In his nineties, he established and helped to fund the Yazoo Memorial Literary Walkway, which memorializes more than one hundred Yazooan authors. Sam’s large collection of pre-Columbian ceramics is now on display in the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.

Ten Things I Can’t Do Without

  1. My little sister, age 92, and her beautifully brought up and admirable son and daughter
  2. A hearty breakfast, always with bacon and eggs
  3. The New York Times, daily on my iPad
  4. The  Economist
  5. Public Broadcasting System–especially “PBS News Hour” and “Masterpiece Theater”
  6. Reading history, any country, any period, and particularly biographies
  7. Victorian poetry from time to time
  8. Classical symphonic and piano music
  9. Nostalgic returns to Vienna, Madrid, and Paris, in each of which I resided and worked during many of my younger and happiest years
  10. Soft, ripe figs picked straight from a Mississippi tree in mid-July