For most people, being a star athlete, founding a successful engineering company or being elected to statewide office would be crowning achievements, but Sam Hensley Sr. of Marietta accomplished all three and more.
Hensley died June 26 at 87 years old, and those who knew him remember him as one of the finest athletes to come out of Marietta High School, an engineer who helped build much of Cobb County’s infrastructure and a public servant who worked to represent his hometown.
“Sam Hensley was a Renaissance man,” said former Gov. Roy Barnes. “He was a great engineering student and engineer, an outstanding athlete at Georgia Tech, a dedicated public servant and a loving husband, father and grandfather. I knew him most of my life, and served with him in the General Assembly. I never saw him lose his temper or treat anyone except with respect. There are not many times somebody like Sam comes along, and we should treasure his memory.”
Hensley was born January 5, 1932, in Smyrna, to the late Cicero Paul Hensley and Ober Penland Hensley.
While attending Marietta High School, he met A.D. Little, and the two became friends.
“Let’s put it this way: if you didn’t like Sam, there was something wrong with you,” Little said with a laugh. “He was truly a good person. He just was an all-around good person. He was a tremendous athlete, perhaps the best athlete Marietta High School ever produced.”
Hensley was voted Mr. Marietta by his classmates, and MDJ articles at the time praised him as “Slinging Sam Hensley” and “Old Reliable.”
After high school, he was recruited by Coach Bobby Dodd to play football at Georgia Tech, where he served as co-captain when the Yellow Jackets won the 1952 national championship. He was named All-American that year by the Football Yearbook.
Hensley was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the National Football League and the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League. After a short stint playing professional football, he returned home to Marietta to marry his high school sweetheart, Iris Antley.
He served in the United States Army at Fort Belvoir in Washington, and then opened a civil engineering firm in Marietta, Hensley & Associates, which later became Hensley-Schmidt, Inc., with his brother, Marble John Hensley.
During a long career as a civil engineer, Sam Hensley helped plan and implement the infrastructure of roads, water and sewer systems, and airports that continue to serve Cobb County and much of Georgia. The firm also designed projects throughout the Southeast and internationally.
Former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden, D-Marietta, said it’s not exaggeration to say Hensley helped make Cobb County what it is today.
“He was responsible, along with Bob Sutton, who was a county engineer, with most of the infrastructure improvements that were begun during the Ernest Barrett administration, not only with the county, but his engineering firm also worked with the cities of Marietta and Smyrna,” Darden said. “He was highly regarded both professionally and personally. … He was an important part in the development of Cobb County infrastructure at a time when the county had just begun to grow, and as a result, it was able to attract a tremendous amount of industry and also business to the county.”
Hensley eventually went back to school and earned a law degree. In 1966, he was elected to the Georgia Senate, where he chaired the Highway Committee for two terms. After an unsuccessful campaign for Congress, he was again elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 1986, this time to the House of Representatives.
Darden said Hensley was a man he and the other representatives looked up to and respected.
“Sam represented the best,” he said. “He was the gold standard in not only professionalism, but also in civic duty and responsibility.”
Hensley’s service also included many years on the Board of Kennestone Hospital and later WellStar Health System, which he chaired. He was active in the First Baptist Church of Marietta, where he served as a deacon and taught Sunday school.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 47 years, Iris, who founded and directed The Georgia Ballet.
He is survived by three children, Sam Jr., Nevanne and Shuler, and six grandchildren, Hannah, Skyler, Grayson, Annie, Jessie and Harper.
A memorial service will be at First Baptist Church of Marietta, on Saturday, July 20, at 11:00 a.m. The family will receive friends at the Mayes-Ward Dobbins Funeral Home in Marietta on Thursday, July 18, from 5 to 7 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations either to The Georgia Ballet Inc. or the WellStar Foundation.