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Friends, family call Rock Hill fire victim "a good man"

The eastern Rock Hill neighborhood where 43-year-old Sammie Givens died has small, single-family houses, as blue-collar as a neighborhood can be. A place where people work for a living and either own a little piece of earth, or rent. A place where guys such as Sammie Givens mow the grass for neighbors - like Sammie Givens did on the day he died.

The area near the house still smelled faintly of smoke 36 hours later. An insurance adjustor went through the little house at 224 Cummings St.

Nobody was home because there is no livable home left inside.

If you went to the Boyd Hill section of Rock Hill and down a gravel road to where Givens' sister lives, people were talking about Sammie Givens.

Inside the house is a stand with a guest book for well-wishers to sign. The book is from Robinson Funeral Home, a place that has served the community for100 years, whether the person is famous or not. Sammie Givens was not famous. He was not a public figure.

You find people coming to the house because many loved Sammie Givens.

Friends from Fort Mill, where Givens grew up on Steele Street in the Paradise section.

Friends from Rock Hill and Chester, places he lived and worked, including at a textile mill for years until the mill owners took the jobs overseas for the labor far cheaper than was paid to Sammie Givens for an honest day's work.

You find all this from his mother, sitting where mothers always do after a death of a son - right by the guest book in the living room, accepting condolences. Mothers meet the world who mourn a son.

"He was quick with a smile and a joke for somebody who needed a pick-up," said Willie Mae Givens Dupree, Sammie Givens' mother.

"He always worked. Sometimes it was two jobs. A workaholic."

His latest job was making plastic barrels and garbage cans in a factory.

You find out Givens loved the San Francisco 49ers football team. You hear that he was never Sam, or Samuel, but Sammie. "Sammie Sosa" to co-workers, even though Givens was not known as a fan of Sammy Sosa the ballplayer. But Sammy Sosa the ballplayer was a famous smiler, and so was Sammie Givens. So at work, Sammie Givens became Sammie Sosa.

Or if you knew him real well, Sammie Givens was, simply, "Boo."

From another chair you hear a niece, Jasmine Lowery, say how her uncle was gracious with his spirit and time.

From a third chair come words from Givens' daughter, Bre, who is 18 years old. She says she has an older brother and a stepsister and two stepbrothers. The stepbrothers are the ones who were living with Givens and got out of the burning house but didn't know Givens was home. Givens was thought to be visiting next door when he was actually in the house.

You find out Bre is set to be a senior at Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, and she faces the last year of high school without her father. She said her father was a cleaning fanatic, meticulous, and generous. Givens was always slipping his kids a few dollars, she said, or taking them out to eat.

"He was a good man," said Bre, of her father.

Not famous, but good. What every man and father hopes that his family says about him.

Givens was found in the bathroom at his home by firefighters.

Rusty Myers, the Rock Hill Fire Department investigator, said the fire was an accident, and all that was left of whatever Givens was cooking was the burned cooking pot.

Nobody will ever know, Myers said, if Givens was trying to escape the smoke, or looking for water to fight the fire, when the smoke overcame him.

Givens' mother said her son was likely trying to put out the fire. She doesn't know for sure, but she is a mother, and that is what she believes in her mother's heart.

So what this family has to do now is prepare to bury a working man Sunday who was not famous, but became, briefly, news when he died in a fire in a neighborhood filled with working men who are not famous, either.

His mother, the sentry in that chair next to the guest book, said: "A fire took him, but it can't take him in our hearts. ... Say he was a good man, because he was."

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