Michael Scanlon Sample, born July 4, 1947, died tragically on June 19, 2014, in Billings. He was 66 years old. Michael was predeceased by his mother, Patricia Halterman and his stepmother, Miriam Sample; he is survived by his father, Joseph Sample, wife Barbara Sample, two brothers David and Patrick Sample, four children James (Joanne), Kate (Mike), John (Claire) and Ryan (Dana), and 10 grandchildren.
Michael was born in New Haven, Conn., was educated at Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and then Trinity College in Connecticut, and served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves.
In July of 1954, Michael came to Montana and an endless love affair began. While exploring the state, deepening his affection for it and practicing his photographic artistry, Michael met Barbara Maronick, a Great Falls native, and on Dec. 28, 1971, they were married. The next year he published his first “Montana Calendar”; he would publish 43 more, including a 2015 one, released just prior to his death. During his career, Michael contributed to countless magazines and published a number of coffee table books, including “Montana on My Mind” in 1987. Each year, Michael was honored to mentor younger photographers at the annual convention of the North American Nature Photographers Association. His life and work were interrupted before the completion of what he believed to be his final book, a memoir in images that he intended to title “Montana from the Heart.”
In addition to his work as a photographer, Michael co-founded Falcon Press, a publishing house specifically for western authors and artists like himself. Launched by his “Anglers Guide to Montana,” the Falcon Guide series remains the definitive source in the state and now much of the country for outdoor enthusiasts. Michael served on the board for the Yellowstone Association, and he supported countless other local and national organizations both privately and in his role as Vice President of the Sample Foundation. Michael treasured the natural world, and he did everything in his power to preserve it through both his photography and his philanthropy.
Michael loved others, especially his family, the same way he loved the state of Montana, by giving them everything he had to share: his resources, his seemingly inexhaustible supply of fine chocolate, his aesthetic vision, his exquisitely detailed and often remarkably lyrical stories of his photographic adventures, and his quirky, pure-hearted sense of fun. Around Montana or traveling, at social gatherings or in his home, Michael could generally be found behind his camera, truly the lens through which he saw the world. He loved front-yard Frisbee, family slide shows, delicate wildflowers and really bad puns; he loved attending Billings Rotary meetings, coaching youth soccer and cheering for the Denver Broncos, the St. Louis Cardinals and all of his sports teams, each of which he believed was invariably the underdog and often the victim of a league-wide officiating conspiracy. He loved the names for different types of clouds, the magic of moving water captured in a still frame and what he called “storm light.” While Michael never lost his sense of awe beneath a Montana sky and could often be heard exclaiming about the majesty of Montana’s mountain ranges, he also found beauty in less grand and otherwise unnoticed parts of the landscape he so loved.
In general, Michael listened more than he spoke and gave more than he received. He was patient, generous and unfailingly kind. His family and friends loved him dearly and will miss him desperately.
Following a private memorial service, an informal public gathering will be held on Thursday, June 26, at the Yellowstone Country Club from 3 to 5 p.m. The family encourages guests to bring a typed or hand-written story or memory of Michael to share in a memorial book. In lieu of flowers, Michael’s family invites contributions in his honor to a few of the organizations Michael supported and served: The Yellowstone Association, The Nature Conservancy and Yellowstone Public Radio.