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Samuel "Sam" Ellis Dunnam IV

Obituary for Samuel "Sam" Ellis Dunnam IV

July 22, 1931 - April 10, 2017
Austin, Texas | Age 85


Samuel 'Sam' Ellis Dunnam IV passed away peacefully on April 10th in Austin, Texas, after a long illness. He will be remembered as a man of action, integrity and kindness who possessed a never-ending thirst for knowledge.

The eldest son of Samuel Ellis Dunnam and Virginia Illig Dunnam, Sam was born on July 22, 1931 in Houston, Texas, where he spent his early youth. His family moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1941 for his father's oil business. As his family made plans to return to Houston, Sam attended Allen Military Academy in Bryan, Texas. Once back in Houston, he briefly attended Lanier Junior High until he was accidentally shot by a close friend at the age of 14. After his recovery, he attended The Kinkaid School before finishing high school at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia.

Sam received a BA in philosophy in 1954 from Southern Methodist University. At SMU, he participated in the Air Force ROTC and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was called to active duty in 1954 and served as an Intelligence Officer at Headquarters, 2nd Air Force, in Shreveport, Louisiana, until 1956.

In February, Sam married Valerie Sellors, also from Houston and an SMU classmate. Following his service, Sam attended Rice University and received a Masters Degree in Philosophy in 1958. The family then moved to Chicago where he attended the University of Chicago to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy. Upon finishing his coursework, the Dunnams and their three children moved to Austin in 1960 and welcomed a fourth child shortly afterwards. Sam continued his studies there but eventually decided to pursue a career in business to support his growing family. Sam's interest in real estate led him to become a developer. His major projects were Dobie Center, a 29-story residential and commercial tower just south of The University of Texas campus, and Northcross Mall in northwest Austin, which brought the San Antonio-based retailer Frost Brothers to Austin.

In 1980, seeking to diversify his investments, Sam founded Centex Communications, Inc., a mobile communications company with branches in Austin, San Antonio and Houston.

An early adapter of technology, Sam was among the first of his friends to use computers, cell phones and digital cameras. He was a founder and president of the Space Foundation, a nonprofit group that funded research on the economic development of space. Later he helped raise funds for Orbital Sciences Corporation, a pioneer in designing and launching rocket systems and satellites.

Sam and Val shared a passion for nature and enjoyed hiking and camping. He was a member of the Port Bay Hunting and Fishing Club at Rockport, Texas. A serious amateur photographer, Sam was drawn to nature and portrait photography. Especially memorable were the photographs he took at Big Bend National Park and one of John F. Kennedy campaigning on the steps of the Texas State Capitol.

Sam took great delight in his family and friends. He loved a lively dinner with fine wines and intense discussion, followed by music and dancing. Sam knew how to have fun.

During his adult life, Sam participated in many organizations including The Austin Child Guidance Center; the Austin Planning Commission, serving as chairman for several years; the Advisory Council on the Architecture Foundation of UT Austin; the Institute for the Humanities at Salado; the Board of Visitors of McDonald Observatory; and the Board of Trustees of KMFA, Austin's classical music station.

Sam was preceded in death by parents Sam Dunnam and Virginia Dunnam and his brother James Dunnam. He is survived by his wife Valerie Dunnam, brother Robert Dunnam, children Greig Dunnam; Jeffrey Dunnam and wife Ruth; Virginia Lahourcade and husband Lee; and Russell Dunnam and wife Kate. He took great delight in and was proud of his many grandchildren.

The family wishes to express gratitude to the staff of the Plaza at Querencia at Barton Creek for the excellent care they gave Sam during the past year.

Following a private burial, the family will hold a celebration of Sam's life at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home, 3125 North Lamar Blvd., on Monday, April 17 at 2 pm to be followed by a reception at Tarry House, 3006 Bowman Avenue.

For those wishing to make a memorial contribution, the family suggests with gratitude they be directed to KMFA, Austin's classical music station (3001 N. Lamar Blvd., Ste. 100, Austin 78705); Woodberry Forest School (402 Woodberry Station, Woodberry Forest, VA 22989); or the charity of one's choice.

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Suggested Memorial Donations

  • For those wishing to make a memorial contribution, the family suggests with gratitude they be directed to KMFA, Austin's classical music station (3001 N. Lamar Blvd., Ste. 100, Austin 78705); Woodberry Forest School (402 Woodberry Station, Woodberry Fores

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Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home North

3125 N Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78705
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