Two years after retiring from the California Highway Patrol after a distinguished 38-year career, a relaxed Sam Samra got a call from the office of freshman U.S. Congressman John Duarte.
They’d never met, but Duarte wanted to chat.
A mutual friend recommended Samra to Duarte because of his expertise in law enforcement and management, and his connections throughout California. They met for breakfast. Before the bill was paid, Duarte offered Samra a job.
“I was honored by that vote of confidence,” said Samra, 62. “I’m so grateful to Congressman Duarte and his leadership to this Valley. I’m excited to see what we can do for the people here.”
In his new role, Samra acts as a de facto chief of staff within the district, rather than at the Capitol.
The work is similar to what he did with the CHP. Samra directs field reps throughout the 13th District. He also guides case workers who help constituents untangle challenges with social security, passports, immigration, veterans affairs, etc.
“Working with Congressman Duarte is my way of giving back,” said Samra, who grew up in Livingston. “I don’t have to do this—I want to do this.”
Samra had to put all of his expertise to use when Duarte’s office rushed to help locals after floods devastated Merced County in January.
“My wife said my stories now may not be as thrilling as doing high-speed chases with the CHP,” he said. “But we do real work on real issues. It’s been an eye-opener, and stressful, but also extremely rewarding.”
Samra retired as Executive Assistant to the CHP Commissioner in Sacramento in 2019. He was the first Indian man to rise to that rank in the CHP.
In fact, over 38 years, while also a trained EMT, he held every rank from cadet to acting Assistant Commissioner-Field in the agency.
“Getting to do that work was a huge blessing,” Samra said. “I’m just a kid from India who was given an opportunity to succeed. This is truly a beautiful nation of ours. If I can be the shoulders young people stand on to have a brighter view on life, I’ll do whatever I have to.”
Samra got into law enforcement as a part-time campus security worker at Merced College while earning an A.A. in Administrative Justice.
He also met the love of his life there. As students, he and the former Nancy Armenta would sit on the loading dock behind the bookstore, contemplating their future home, future kids and future life together.
Samra and former CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley, who is from Dos Palos, also took classes together at the college. Decades later, Stanley brought Samra to the commissioner’s office to work his final years in law enforcement.
Even once he became a patrolman, the college had a place for him. Samra returned as an adjunct instructor from 1989-2018, teaching administrative justice, handgun safety, emergency vehicle safety for EMTs, and driving safety for seniors.
“As with anything in life, how you start, your foundation, is so important,” he said. “There are folks in our Valley without the economic means to pursue a career. My parents weren’t able to go to school in India. They had to work to support their family. But college allowed me to have a good career.”
The Samra family moved from Punjab, India, to Livingston in 1970. Samra said he wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the determination his parents Sohan and Gurmit had to “become Americans.”
Samra credits his Livingston Middle School teachers for helping him finish fourth grade, skip fifth, and land in sixth in his first year stateside. At Livingston High, Samra then became the All-American Kid, participating in FFA, football and wrestling.
His parents worked at Foster Farms for years and eventually saved enough money to buy a 40-acre almond orchard that helped support the family.
“I get goosebumps talking about the blessings the people in our Valley give to others,” he said. “We might have some naysayers here, but others are hardworking folks who give so much to improve the quality of life in our Valley. I’ve always wanted to be alongside them.”
Samra maintains great enthusiasm for his life, thanks to Nancy, his wife of 41 years, daughters Stephanie and Danielle, who both attended Merced College, and son Joshua.
“Nancy is so strong and supportive,” he said. “It’s because of her prayers that I was able to come home safely for so many years.”
Samra holds the tough times close. He remembers decades ago, when he and his brother Ron were harvesting almonds and complaining about the heat. Their father, who Samra calls “the smartest and most compassionate person I’ve ever known,” turned to them and said, “Really? It’s hot? Listen to me. Sometimes in life, things get hard. When they do, put your head down and get to work.”
Samra thinks fondly of his deceased mother and his now 94-year-old father, and everything they sacrificed to make his life possible.
“I don’t deserve what I have received in life,” he said. “But I am so grateful. I try to stay humble, and will contribute something to this world as long as I can.”