The Dillards

Sam and Janet Dillard visit a castle in Ireland with their son, Thomas, in 2007.

Dillard family photo

Sam Dillard was always ready for a little adventure.

When his son, Thomas, had a Boy Scout camping trip, Sam was one of the dads who camped with them — even if it meant shoveling a foot of snow one January to pitch tents.

When his Absecon United Methodist Church went on a mission trip to Guatemala, he was there, too — twice.

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“We did everything: moving trees, pouring concrete, rebuilding a playground, painting,” he reported to fellow church members after his second trip. His list ran on to “washing the feet of young, mostly shoeless, boys and girls to give them new shoes and socks; laying hands on and praying for dying people in the hospital,” and more.

Janet Dillard, Sam’s wife, says he gave that talk in January, after he had gone to a doctor because he was suddenly oddly tired.

“We thought he had the flu,” she says.

A month later, he was diagnosed with an aggressive, advanced cancer in several parts of his body. By early March, he was dead, at 42.

The family moved to Northfield from Memphis, Tenn., for Sam’s job — he was regional information-technology vice president for Caesars Entertainment, with its four Atlantic City casinos. He had been with the company 17 years, and his job kept him busy.

“He was on that phone 24/7,” Janet says.

At work, he was appreciated as a guy who took some of the adventure out of the computer systems for everyone who needed them, Caesars’ president and chairman, Gary Loveman, said Monday.

“IT people aren’t always known for being popular. But if you had a popularity contest with the people at our properties, I’m quite sure Sam would have won — not only with those who worked for him, but with everyone who relied on him,” Loveman said.

And although the family moved to South Jersey less than six years ago, Sam loved exploring the area and finding new adventures when he wasn’t working.

 Janet remembers taking Thomas, now 14, to Lucy the Elephant right after they got here. They did a tour of area lighthouses — Cape May’s, North Wildwood’s and Atlantic City’s — all in one day.

Plus these two Southerners — Sam was a Tennessee boy, Janet is from Arkansas — loved that their new home was just an hour from Philadelphia and a few hours from New York. They visited those cities every chance they got.

They even learned to love South Jersey’s weather — when Sam didn’t have to shovel snow for a campsite. But along with being open to adventures, he was also always willing to pitch in, Thomas’ scoutmaster says.

“He was there for his son any time we needed help,” says Bill Schmitz, of Mays Landing. “He dug right in to helping the kids learn to cook, clean up and everything. ... Sam was just a pleasure to have around.”

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