Ernesto J. “Hugh” DeSamper, whose promotion of Colonial Williamsburg boosted visitation for more than three decades, died May 25, 2021 at Patriots Colony, Williamsburg. He was 94.
He joined Colonial Williamsburg as a staff writer in 1954 and served in various public relations and marketing capacities until retiring in 1991 as senior director for media and government relations. He was a greatly respected Williamsburg “go-to” contact person for journalists, travel writers and broadcasters from across the country.
A native of New York City, he grew up in Florida and attended Florida Military Academy. He later lived in Hampton with the family of Ethel and Francis Beale (“Mom and Pop”) and her son Herb Sullivan.
Hugh was a 1951 graduate of the College of William & Mary where he was editor of the campus newspaper, The Flat Hat. An athlete, he was on the Varsity swim team, and co-captain of the Varsity cross country and track teams. He was also a member of the national leadership honor society Omicron Delta Kappa and social fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
He enlisted in the Navy in 1943, the first of three chapters in a Naval career that spanned 44 years. During World War II he served at the Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, MD, and aboard ship on Atlantic & Pacific crossings as a buglemaster. He was recalled during the Korean War and served as a quartermaster aboard patrol boats along the U.S. Pacific coast. In 1956 he received a commission as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve and retired in 1987 with the rank of captain. Among his decorations is the Meritorious Service Medal.
As a journalist, he was news editor of The Virginia Gazette for two years and later authored The Happy Wanderer, a monthly travel column, for seven years. He was a member of the Public Relations Society of America, a national board member of the Society of American Travel Writers and was honored with membership into its Marco Polo Society. In retirement, he was a free-lance travel writer. He authored a book relating the history and charm of the Williamsburg Inn and a souvenir booklet on Bruton Parish Church.
While at the Gazette, he was appointed by City Council to the community’s recreation committee, a voluntary position that lasted 18 years, nearly all of them as chairman. During that time the program grew from summertime schoolyard games to a year-round schedule of sports and activities for all age groups, directed by a professional.
He and his wife, Carol, executive director of the United Way of Greater Williamsburg, chaired a community-wide effort in 1993 to purchase, renovate and open to the public the Historic Triangle Service Center on Waller Mill Road that has housed dozens of social service organizations.
Hugh enjoyed playing trumpet with the York River Concert Band, singing with the Dukes of Gloucester, a barber-shop group, traveling the world and spending winters in Marco Island, FL where he drew a nightly crowd as he played Taps at sunset. He was a member of Bruton Parish Episcopal Church where he served as an usher and greeter.
Hugh will be remembered for his joie de vivre and genuine interest in everyone around him. He was predeceased by his cherished wife of 45 years, Carol Raymond DeSamper, who died in 2000; a granddaughter, Melanie Strange; and a sister, Victoria Davidson. He is survived by two daughters, Kimberlee “Kim” Goldsmith (Douglas) of Rye, NY, and Stephanie “Stevie” Strange (William) of Greenville, SC; sisters-in-law, Vi Raymond of McLean, VA, and Louise “Betty” Sullivan of Hampton, VA; step-granddaughters, Lisa Goldsmith Siega (Marcos) of Purchase, NY, Sara Goldsmith of Brooklyn, NY; and Lindsay Whetstone of Charleston, SC; and seven great grandchildren.
A service will be held at Bruton Parish on Saturday, June 5 at 1:00 p. m. with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org) or Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.org/give/).
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