In Loving Memory of our Beloved Harmonica Player
Sam Mayo was born in Los Angeles on March 31, 1932. He lived in Hollywood with his immigrant parents and his brother and sister. His father was born on the Island of Rhodes, off the coast of Turkey, in what, was then called Asia Minor. His mother was born in London to Lithuanian refugees. Sam’s brother was 12 years old when Sam was born and his sister was almost 2.
After graduating from Fairfax High School in 1950, Sam went on to attend Los Angeles City College. It was here that he was awakened to the power of education and knowledge. He was inspired by a few of his teachers, so much so that he began to dream of being a teacher. His grades improved and by the time he transferred to Cal State Los Angeles, Sam was a straight-A student.
His education was interrupted in its last year when he was drafted into the army during the Korean War. He escaped being sent to Korea when he was assigned to be the secretary to the commanding general of the 47th Anti-aircraft Artillery and Nike Missile Brigade in San Pedro. After serving in the army for two years, he returned to college with a passion to become a teacher.
He started his career in education as a history teacher at Van Nuys High School. He became the most popular teacher at the school and many of his former students kept in touch with him throughout his life.
After about five years at Van Nuys High School, Sam moved to Los Angeles Valley College where he taught Latin American History and History of California. In the 1970’s he was selected by the Los Angeles Community College District to write and narrate and 45-episode educational television series, “The History of Mexico,” which aired in 1978 and was viewed by thousands of students in the Los Angeles area.
In his last ten years at Valley College Sam worked as an administrator serving in several positions: Dean of Admissions, Dean of Student Services, and Dean of Academic Affairs. He retired in 1996.
After four years of retirement, he was coaxed into serving as the director of the Academic Outreach Program at Pierce College in Woodland Hills and served in that position until 2007.
In early 2008, Sam was diagnosed as being in the early stages of Frontotemporal Dementia. In the last four years of his life, Sam called upon his love of music to help him combat the distress of the deterioration of many abilities due to his dementia. While in the army, Sam taught himself to play the harmonica, and luckily that was a talent that was not taken from him by the disease. Beginning in the Fall of 2012, he began receiving music therapy at CSUN from two wonderful therapists, Julie Berghofer and Ron Borczon. He went to sessions twice a week and eagerly looked forward to his time making music. And in 2014, Sam and his wife, Leslee, learned from the UCLA Dementia Care Program manager that another of the program’s patients and his wife were trying to form a band of people with dementia and/or Parkinson’s disease.
Soon after, Sam and Leslee met with the founders of Music Mends Minds, Carol and Irwin Rosenstein, and within weeks Sam found his place as the harmonica player in the newly formed “5th Dementia Band.” They happily became part of a new family in which Sam received love and understanding and above all, caring from everyone associated with the band. During his last years, music was everything to Sam. He never went anywhere without his harmonica and serenaded people as they went through theier day…while waiting in the doctor’s office or in line at Trader Joe’s. This made people happy and, in turn, music gave Sam purpose to his life.
Dementia robbed Sam of critical thinking, decision-making, memory, and most cruelly, intelligible language. But he never lost his humanity. He faced everything in life with determination and it was no different when he lived many years with a rare form of dementia that, inch by inch, took him down a path from which there was no escape. But so powerful was his aura and personality, he never lost his charm and charisma, nor his ability to love or express it in every way he could.
Sam was married to his wife Leslee for nearly forty years. He had two children, Robert and Jennifer, of whom he was enormously proud. They both married wonderful mates: Robert married Fabienne Michalon and Jennifer married Flinn Flexer. And Sam eagerly welcomed five “wonderful and downright adorable grandchildren” (Sam’s words): Maxence and Ariane Mayo, and Ryan, Will, and Sadie Flexer.