Bob Samples retiring after 31 years as spokesperson, key policy advisor at UMSL

by | Dec 20, 2021

Samples has helped lead UMSL's marketing and communications efforts since 1990, and he's most recently served as chief of staff to Chancellor Kristin Sobolik.
Bob Samples stands in front of a We Transform Lives mural on the side of the J.C. Penney Building

Bob Samples will retire as UMSL’s chief of staff on Jan. 4. He spent 31 years at the university helping lead its communications and marketing efforts. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Bob Samples has been a visible and influential presence on the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus for more than three decades.

Even those who never met him out and about or in one of his offices over the years – in Woods Hall or the Marketing and Communications office in the J.C. Penney Building – probably knew of him.

The odds are good they saw him quoted in their newspapers or on television in his role as the university’s official spokesperson, or more likely, they discovered frequent messages alerting them to various bits of campus news delivered to their own email inboxes from his address:

“I’ll meet alumni, and I’ll say my name, and they’ll go, ‘I know you. You’re bob@umsl,’” Samples said. “Because they used to get my emails about school closings or whatever else. We didn’t have the communications account, so all that stuff would always come in under bob@umsl.”

He joked, “I always felt like I disappointed people when they met me.”

To the people he worked with and for – including chancellors Blanche Touhill, Tom George and Kristin Sobolik and legions of marketing and communications professionals who have served the university over the past 31 years – Samples was an indispensable part of the campus community. He helped lead UMSL’s marketing and communications efforts, shaped messaging and addressed the news media during challenging times. He also provided thoughtful advice on countless institutional decisions as a member of the chancellor’s cabinet and, for much of the past two years, as the university’s first chief of staff.

Samples, 63, is scheduled to retire on Jan. 4, and Touhill and Sobolik both praised him for his support and counsel during a retirement party held last Friday in the J.C. Penney Building’s Summit Lounge.

“Bob was one of the first people I met when I came to UMSL five years ago, and he has remained one of my most important advisors and guides – someone whose input I always seek on any issue because of his pragmatic, tell it like it is, wisdom and advice, and because of his long-term foundational dedication to UMSL,” Sobolik said. “Bob’s dedication to UMSL is never in doubt and his insight and presence will be missed.”

Stepping away from the university was not a decision he made lightly.

“I’m at peace with the decision because I know it’s the right time for me to move on,” Samples said. “It’s the right time for the institution to have me move on and to bring somebody in that can really give the energy for the next five years, which I was not going to be able to do.”

He no doubt has expended a lot already in his 31 years.

Samples came to UMSL in September of 1990 after spending more than two years working in media relations at the University of Missouri System office in Columbia, Missouri. That followed stints as a newspaper reporter at the Dyersburg State Gazette in Tennessee and the Edwardsville Intelligencer in Illinois, as well as time working as an aide to Congressman Mel Price.

His move to UMSL was a homecoming of sorts. Samples likes to joke that he was born on the campus before it was a campus. He was born at the former St. Vincent Hospital in Normandy, which UMSL bought after the hospital closed.

Samples recalls his first day on the job as the same one UMSL presented the late John Denver with the first World Ecology Award. Samples wasn’t at the university long when he was named interim director of communications, following the departure of Betty Lee, who left to join the staff of Congressman William Clay Sr.

Touhill was serving as the interim chancellor, and she eventually named him the director of communications after her own appointment became permanent.

“The appointment gave me an opportunity to literally build the communication function here,” Samples said. “At one point, for various reasons, I was the only full-time staff member in communications.”

His responsibilities grew to include direction of marketing as well, with promotions to assistant vice chancellor and associate vice chancellor along the way.

“One of the things I’ve enjoyed about working here is, on the one hand, we’re understaffed, but on the other hand, it’s given me an opportunity, by necessity, to enhance my skillsets in many areas that I didn’t really have when I got here,” said Samples, who pointed to his successful work helping with the development of videos, writing speeches and creating presentations throughout his career.

He’s quick to credit the people who worked under him in marketing and communications for helping his success.

Samples is especially proud of three things he worked on and championed during his career.

The first is UMSL Magazine, the bi-annual publication, which existed before his arrival but that he has helped grow to a publication that now reaches an audience of more than 100,000, including alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends of the university.

“The magazine has been and really continues to be the only vehicle that we have to reach all our constituents, and particularly our alumni, about positive stories campuswide,” Samples said. “It’s not an alumni magazine. It’s a campus magazine, and I always have been very proud of the quality of it, particularly given that we don’t have a publication staff. We’ve won gold awards against much bigger universities that have dedicated staffs just for those functions. That’s a real source of pride.”

He was integral in the creation of UMSL Daily, the university’s online news blog, which has been a forum to share the success stories of the campus community that weren’t getting covered. It’s been particularly useful in getting the message out about good work going on at the university in an era where newspaper and television newsrooms have been shrinking.

Samples also helped develop and launch the I Chose UMSL marketing campaign, which became foundational to the university’s marketing efforts for a decade. In its earliest stages, it featured prominent alumni on billboards showcasing UMSL’s role in launching them to successful careers as business executives and civic leaders.

One of the things he’s enjoyed most about his time at the university is meeting people as students and then running into them again years later when they’re established in their careers. He recalled former Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, whom he first met when Zweifel was an undergraduate serving as the managing editor The Current student newspaper.

As Samples looks toward retirement, he has no immediate plans aside from a February trip to Florida to visit friends and take in the Delray Beach Open tennis tournament.

Samples, part of a four-member team that won a World Team Tennis Super Senior national title last month in Orlando, Florida, will no doubt spend some of his newfound free time on the court, and he’ll help out his aging parents and babysit his grandchildren.

He’ll miss the colleagues he’s had over the years.

“I have appreciated the people that I’ve worked for directly and the people I’ve worked with directly, mostly in the communications and marketing team, because we’ve had outstanding people come through Marcom,” Samples said. “They’ve all been great. We’ve really been very lucky in being able to recruit some talented people that worked hard and worked well.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik