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Samantha Crist was the steel that kept family together

December 11, 2005|By MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

KEEDYSVILLE -

Since the untimely death of his young wife, Tony Crist said he has been overwhelmed by the sheer number of cards and letters he has received from people he never knew.

"At Frederick Memorial Hospital where Samantha worked, she made sure that everyone was taken care of," Tony said. "I never got to know these people, but I've gotten a lot of cards from them."

Samantha J. Crist died at that same hospital on Dec. 1, surrounded by her family and friends and many of the people whose lives she touched in her 15 years as a social worker there. She was only 37, the victim of a very aggressive cancer.

"My wife was a wonderful person," Tony said. "There are angels on this earth and she was one."

Faced with the dilemma of what to tell their two young sons, Tony said he explained to 9-year-old Collin his mommy died, and Collin seems to understand.

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"With Max, who is only 4, we just told him mommy is in heaven," Tony said.

Tony said Samantha was the steel in her family.

"She cared for all of us ... sisters, parents, me and the boys," Tony said.

Coming off of a lot of sleepless nights lately, Tony stretched out on the sofa at the home he shared with Samantha and their sons. In every room of the home they had remodeled together, there were little touches and reminders of Samantha's love of family - photographs, flowers she arranged and crafts she treasured.

Kathy Hoffman said Samantha was her first child, just 6 months old when her father, Cpl. Orville L. Knight, was killed in Vietnam in 1969. Kathy and Samantha moved back in with Kathy's parents and she later remarried, producing two more daughters, Nicole and Jessica.

Half sister Jessica Hoffman is 23 and in college, heading toward a career working with juveniles.

"She kept me in line," Jessica said. "She was always there for me."

Samantha's youngest half sister, Nicole Stotler, is the mother of a little girl, Kennedy, whom Samantha used to keep on Thursdays - Samantha's only day off, according to their mother.

When Samantha and Tony started going together in high school, Kathy said she couldn't have been more pleased.

The couple married in 1991, just one year after Samantha finished her undergraduate degree in social work at Shepherd College, now Shepherd University.

"Tony has been a part of our lives for a long time," Kathy said. "They'd sit at my house instead of running around."

Kathy said Samantha's boys are like her, smart and loving.

"Max, the youngest, has a real charisma," she said.

Tony describes Collin as a child who makes a friend wherever he goes. Because of Samantha and Tony, the boys were active and will continue to be if Tony and Kathy have anything to do with it.

Samantha was involved in the PTA at Boonsboro Elementary School and was a coach mom for a youth football team. It was just before Halloween this year that Samantha first began feeling bad.

"This all started with what she thought was a sinus infection," Kathy said. While being treated for that, Samantha began losing her voice. A visit to a specialist confirmed that her vocal cords were affected and the illness was more serious.

"But we were still laughing and making plans for the holidays," Kathy said, still reeling from the speed with which the disease took her daughter.

Once cancer was diagnosed, it already had spread. Samantha had just begun chemotherapy when the end came. It was all the more shocking because Samantha had never smoked.

The phone call came early on Dec. 1. Kathy arrived at the hospital that last day at 7 a.m. and met Tony, who had stayed with Samantha through the night.

"I hugged her and put my cheek against hers," Kathy said. "She died in my arms."

At the funeral service, Pastor Malcolm Stranathan spoke of her birthing Samantha into this life 37 years ago, Kathy said.

"And then he pointed out I also was there to birth her into the next," Kathy said.

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