Samuel Saunders Blackman, 41, died peacefully surrounded by his family on August 27, 2017 after experiencing cardiac arrest the previous day.
Sam will be remembered as a loving husband and father, a visionary and humble leader, an inspiring advocate for the community and environment, and an avid Ultimate Frisbee player with a keen ear for pop tunes. But it was his love of family, his kindness to all, and his ability to instantly connect to each individual he met that will leave an indelible footprint on the hearts he touched during his life well-lived.
Sam was born in Portland, Oregon to Susan and Marc David Blackman on July 3, 1976. He attended Duniway Elementary in SE Portland and graduated from Lakeridge High School after the family moved to Lake Oswego. He took to electronics classes at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) from an early age. He was six years old when he learned his first programming languages, Logo and Pascal, on an Apple III and became hooked on computers and coding. Sam ultimately earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Brown University, an M.S. in electrical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, and an M.B.A. from the University of Oregon. Sam became an engineer with an analytical mind, as well a deeply thoughtful, reflective, and civic-minded man.
After working in engineering roles at Pixelworks, Silicon Graphics and Intel Corporation, Sam co-founded Elemental Technologies in 2006 with Jesse Rosenzweig and Brian Lewis, and led the company as CEO. During his tenure at the helm of Elemental, Sam guided the company in developing pioneering technology behind internet-delivered video and ultimately ushered the company through one of the most successful start-up exits in Oregon history, via an acquisition by Amazon Web Services in 2015. Sam then became the CEO of AWS Elemental under the Amazon umbrella.
Sam had a remarkable ability to engage with people, developing intense personal connections in virtually all his interactions. While busy growing his company, he also forged enduring bonds with people in every corner of Portland and the world at large. He was easy to talk to and could speak knowledgeably on a vast number of topics, from the environment and public pensions to the struggles of the less fortunate and the plague of income inequality.
Sam greatly valued the city in which he was born. As a champion of Portland, Sam helped make the city the best it could be via the platform he and his team built; it intersected his business, civic, and community passions. During his career, Sam was recognized by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters as a Volunteer of the Year in 2006, by 1000 Friends of Oregon as one of “35 Innovators Under 35" in 2010, and by Oregon Entrepreneurs Network as the recipient of the Tom Holce Award for Individual Achievement in 2011. Sam was also named one of Forty Outstanding Leaders Under Forty in 2011 and the Most Admired CEO in Technology in 2012 by the Portland Business Journal, Startup CEO of the Year by GeekWire in 2013, Technology Executive of the Year by the Technology Association of Oregon in 2015, and Entrepreneur of the Year in the Pacific Northwest by EY in 2016.
Through all of this, Sam’s greatest passion was for his wife, Adriane, and his sons, Abe and Solly. Mutual friends attending Lewis & Clark's M.A. in Teaching Program with Adriane introduced the two in 2002. They were married on Sauvie Island in August of 2005. Both Portland natives, Adriane and Sam loved their hometown and believed it was their duty to give back, supporting public schools, the environment, and many other causes. They both inspired each other to serve humbly and to live with gratitude. Sam and Adriane loved to travel together and took their sons on countless adventures. They climbed Mayan ruins in Belize, watched the midnight sun in Sweden’s Lapland and most recently flew across the rainforest canopy, zip-lining over the Costa Rican cloud forest.
Despite Sam's demanding work schedule, he was up early on weekends to make blueberry pancakes or buttermilk waffles, sit by a city pool and watch his boys learn to swim, throw the frisbee at a park or score his sons' baseball games by hand. The family took a weekly Sunday walk to reflect on recent days and the week ahead. Sam read to his sons at night, often falling asleep alongside them. He shed everything else in his life in those and other private moments to be there just for them.
Sam is survived by his wife of 12 years, Adriane; sons, Abe and Solly; brothers, Amos (Shannon), and Eli (Haley); his mother Susan; and his niece, Hannah.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, donations may be made in Sam’s name to the Oregon Food Bank, The Forest Park Conservancy or Rosemary Anderson High School. Each of these organizations was close to Sam’s heart and received many hours of his time in volunteer work.
He will be greatly missed.
A commemorative service will be held at 10 am on Sunday, September 10 at the Portland Art Museum in the Kridell Ballroom.