Samuel Pinkerton, III
In Memory of
Samuel Oscar
Pinkerton, III
1948 - 2020
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Robert Ledford Funeral Home and Chapel
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Obituary for Samuel Oscar Pinkerton, III

Samuel Oscar Pinkerton III (Sam), beloved husband, son, brother and uncle, ended his long and courageous struggle with Parkinson’s disease early on the morning of Wednesday, May 13, 2020, in Johnson City. Sam was 71.

Sam was born on October 21, 1948, in Jefferson City, TN, son of S. O. (Oscar) Pinkerton, Jr., and Martha Phyllis Buchanan Pinkerton. Sam was educated in the public schools of Kingsport, attending Andrew Johnson Elementary, Ross N. Robinson Junior High, and Dobyns-Bennett High School. From an early age, Sam exhibited a keen intellect and insatiable curiosity and loved all things natural, enthusiastically tormenting his sisters with various snakes, lizards and insects. He was an expert spelunker in high school; during a caving expedition with his best friend, Sam Taylor, the two discovered the calcified bones of a prehistoric creature and had the perspicacity to recognize a potentially significant find, and thus contacted an expert paleontologist from UT Knoxville, who in turn contacted the Smithsonian. The skeleton was carefully excavated, turned out to be one of the best preserved examples in the country of the giant three-toed sloth, and is now housed in the Smithsonian.

At Dobyns-Bennett, Sam was a member of the track team as a long-distance runner and graduated in 1967. He then attended ETSU 1967-71, graduating with a major in history. At ETSU Sam was enrolled in the Army ROTC program, and was commissioned as a first lieutenant after graduation. He was a member of the Roanoke, Va., division of the Army Reserve, specializing in communications, and rose to the rank of major, retiring after 22 years. His professional career was in sales, for many years representing the Serta Mattress Co., and then the Pyramid Life Insurance Co. In the latter role, Sam won numerous awards for salesmanship and traveled the world as a reward. Sam married Chris, the love of his life, on April 22, 1989.

Sam was an avid outdoorsman and loved to travel to natural wonders with Chris. He was one of the organizers of the successful campaign to designate the Rocky Fork area of southern Unicoi County as a state park. Sam’s heart was as big as his love of the outdoors. All who knew him recognized a genuinely kindhearted, decent man. Sam never had children, but no father ever loved a daughter any better than Sam loved his nieces, and they adored him for it. Sam was an active member and past president of the Erwin Kiwanis, and, along with Chris, did extensive primary research for her book on the Civil War history of the county. They were also instrumental in organizing re-enactments of the Battle of Greasy Cove. Sam loved mountain lore and music, and he and Chris traveled extensively to support their favorite craftsmen and musicians.

Sam was preceded in death by his father, S.O. Pinkerton Jr., and by his sister, Suzanne Pinkerton Cloninger. He is survived by his wife, by his mother, Phyllis Pinkerton of Kingsport; by his sister, Sandra Pinkerton Thurmond of Durham, NC, and husband Dave; by nieces Kelly Martin Davis of Lithia, FL, Amy Elizabeth Thurmond (also goddaughter) of Brooklyn, NY, Davina Cloninger Sword of Church Hill; and by nephew David Cloninger III (Trey) of Chickasaw, AL. Sam will receive military honors and his remains will be housed at Mountain Home National Cemetery in Johnson City. A memorial service will be held at a future date when circumstances permit. In the meantime, the family requests that those wishing to honor Sam’s memory donate to the Parkinson’s Foundation, to local food banks, or to the charity of their choice.

Online condolences, photos and memories may be shared with the Pinkerton, III family through our complimentary, interactive Book of Memories at

Robert Ledford Funeral Home, 720 Ohio Avenue, Erwin, is privileged to serve the Pinkerton, III family. (423) 743-1380.