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Bruce Samson, who turned around the University of Tampa, dies at 79

Bruce Adams Samson was president of the University of Tampa from 1986 to 1991.
Published Oct. 15, 2017

TAMPA — When Bruce Adams Samson was inaugurated king of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla in 1992, his friends added flair to the ceremony by having a trained tiger stroll into the crowd and seek out the next monarch.

How the big cat identified Mr. Samson remains a mystery, said his wife, Ada Jean Samson, but will always be one of her fonder memories.

It is also one of the few moments of Mr. Samson's life that could be described as glamorous, friends and family said.

"He was no-nonsense in everything he did," friend Leonard Levy said. "He was goal-oriented and always succeeded in achieving that goal."

Mr. Samson's most renowned accomplishment was erasing a $1.4 million budget deficit at the University of Tampa while he served as its president from 1986 to 1991.

Mr. Samson died on Saturday (Oct. 14, 2017) at the age of 79 due to a culmination of health issues, including multiple sclerosis, his wife said.

"He was a man who enjoyed a challenge and he loved his community," she said. "He was a Tampa native who enjoyed being a part of many, many aspects of the community."

Mr. Samson was a former chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, former president of the University Club and a former board member of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Tampa Sports Authority.

In his younger years, Samson was an accomplished swimmer who was part an undefeated 1957 team at Sewanee: the University of the South in Tennessee.

"He was athletic," longtime friend Thomas Touchton said. "But more than anything, he was smart and he loved this city."

That affinity for Tampa was proved in 1986, Touchton said.

Mr. Samson was a millionaire investment banker who decided to run for mayor of Tampa because he thought his business acumen could be an asset to the city.

Considered among the early front-runners in the race that elected Sandra Freedman, Mr. Samson dropped out when University of Tampa leaders asked that he instead become president of the school to pull it out of debt.

"He began the turnaround of UT that helped create the success it is today," Touchton said. "It had money problems until he arrived. He took that job because he thought UT was an important part of Tampa that he could help."

Mr. Samson successfully pushed back against UT having Division I athletic programs because it didn't make financial sense at the time and cut positions in the sports department to save money.

Such decisions were not always popular but did put UT's budget back into the black while helping the school grow.

Under Mr. Samson's leadership, the College of Business was established, a new softball field was built and Plant Hall was renovated.

"When he was involved in something, it was the only thing that was important to him," friend Levy said. "Nothing frivolous got in his way."

That hard-nosed style defined his parenting too, said Amanda Samson, one of his three daughters.

"His favorite words were, 'Amanda, you're grounded,' " she said with a chuckle. "But there was never doubt he loved us. He was only tough on those he loved because he wanted them to succeed."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

>>Biography

Bruce Adams Samson

Born: Jan. 7, 1938

Died: Oct. 14, 2017

Survivors: Wife Ada Jean Samson; daughters Ansley, Catherine and Amanda Samson; and four grandchildren.

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