A Missouri haberdasher turned political workhorse in Washington, D.C. — the life story of Harry Truman has been widely told. What many do not know, however, is his story shares some similarities with an alumnus of the school that now bears his name.
Not long after graduating from the University with a Bachelor of Science in Education, Sam Myers Sr. (’73) realized teaching was not for him. He moved back to his hometown of Edina, Mo., and partnered with a friend to purchase a local department store. Soon he became involved in state politics and found himself working for Rep. Jerry Litton. The congressman’s statewide television show, “Dialogue with Litton,” afforded Myers the opportunity to meet a number of influential political figures, including some associates of the Jimmy Carter campaign.
After Litton’s death in a plane crash the night he won his party’s nomination for a seat in the U.S. Senate, Myers was contacted to help with Carter’s run for president. He was tasked with advance work for the campaign, making sure everything was ready when the candidate arrived. His efforts secured him a job performing similar duties for the first lady after Carter won the election, and Myers worked similar roles in the 1980s for Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and Joe Biden. In between campaigns, he returned to the apparel business.
With the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, Myers landed a dream job. He spent the entire administration coordinating advance work for the 42nd president of the United States. The kid who grew up in a town of 1,200 people was now walking around the White House with an all-access pass and flying across the country on Air Force One.
“You’re thinking, ‘my word, I grew up watching this stuff on TV and now I’m actually getting to do it,’” Myers said.
Rather than feeling burned out after two terms, Myers was ready for more. He was back on the campaign trail with Al Gore in 2000, and later with John Edwards. By 2008, his reputation as a logistical wizard preceded him, and Myers was asked to help prep Mile High Stadium for the acceptance speech of then-candidate Barack Obama during the Democratic National Convention. His old friend Biden also requested he serve as the vice presidential trip director. After an eight-year absence, Myers was back at the White House.
“Once you walk away from it, you want to get back there again,” he said. “It took a long time to get back. I spent 15 years in the White House and I never took it for granted.”
Myers has traveled more than a million and half miles with the nation’s leaders, visiting each state and 59 countries. Not every stop has been an exotic location. He has ventured into war zones on nine occasions, including trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Of his seven journeys to Iraq, one was a surprise overnight expedition to visit troops. Myers has met rock stars and dignitaries, attended the Academy Awards, the World Series and World Cup, but some events do stand out in his mind more than others. Trips to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, along with meeting popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, are among his personal highlights.
“The ones that never go away, the ones that are down deep, are the religious experiences,” he said. “If you are a practicing Catholic from a small town in northeast Missouri and you’ve met three popes, you don’t ever, ever forget that.”
Myers has done enough in his career to consider it complete, but he still plans to spend much of 2018 assisting candidates during the midterm election cycle. While he has a preference for a certain side of the aisle, his vision for the future does not rest with any particular party.
“My hope is we can get down the road to where we are all one and make this thing work,” he said.
Like that other haberdasher who went to Washington, Myers remains true to his Missouri roots. When he is not working or at his home in D.C., he and his wife spend as much time as possible at their residence near Baring Lake, not far from where his incredible journey began.