St. Petersburg’s Meadowlawn neighborhood sits north of downtown, with wide lawns, old homes, live oaks, six lakes, two parks, and for more than a decade, one beloved letter carrier.
The question that’s brought some neighbors and strangers there together recently: Did you hear about Derrick?
Meadowlawn residents might not all know each other. But a lot of them knew the letter carrier who connected them to the world each day on his route through their neighborhood. They’d hear his portable speaker playing 1990s R&B, see his Jeep stop between houses, and catch up as he walked up and down to deliver mail in the boxes attached to most of the homes.
But Derrick Sampson did more than that.
He sat with the older folks. He found a lost cat. He guarded a wedding ring. He checked on pets, monitored holiday decorating progress, remembered names and always offered a smile.
“He was a member of the community,” said resident Danielle Chard.
Sampson died June 12 of a stroke. He was 51.
Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom...
Meadowlawn neighbors knew their 6-foot-3-inch, hulking letter carrier as Derrick, but his family called him Bird because when he was born, he was so small, said wife, Melissa Sampson.
The two served in the Navy and met on New Year’s Eve in Mississippi in the late ’90s. After Sampson was honorably discharged, he moved to Tampa and started working for the Post Office.
At first, he worked in St. Petersburg’s south side, said fellow letter carrier and friend Tonya Lee, before transferring to the Northside Post Office.
Susan Campbell lost her job and moved home to care for her mother, who was sick. Because she was home in the afternoons, it took just a few weeks for her to get to know the new letter carrier. He often checked on her mother, and would knock on the door if he hadn’t seen her for a few days.
In April 2020, Allen Campbell planned to propose to her, but thanks to shutdowns from the pandemic, had to order the engagement ring online. He shared his plans with Sampson, who brought the package right to the door.
The Campbells invited Sampson to their wedding, but he couldn’t make it. He had a route to deliver.
Sampson had another route he walked most days.
Planning your weekend?
Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
In his Carver City neighborhood in Tampa, he’d visit his parents, his grandmother and his aunt.
“He was always going door to door checking on them,” Melissa Sampson said.
At work, he encouraged his fellow letter carriers, Lee said, and lightened everything with his smiles. And when he wasn’t working, Sampson carried a little of his route with him.
“Every day, he would come home and tell stories,” Melissa Sampson said.
There was the elderly woman who’d lost her cat. Sampson helped find it. And the older man he’d stop and talk to each day. And the lady who passed away. Sampson came home and cried that day.
He shared his life with the neighbors, too. Meadowlawn residents knew he was proud of his wife and two daughters, Jasmynn and Alexandra. He loved just about every sport, especially the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He always played music.
“They were his friends,” his wife said. “They really were.”
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
Sign up for Kristen Hare’s newsletter and learn the stories behind our obituaries
Our weekly newsletter, How They Lived, is a place to remember the friends, neighbors and Tampa Bay community members we’ve lost. It’s free. Just click on the link to sign up. Know of someone we should feature? Please email Kristen at email@example.com.
• • •