Samuel Waters, Memorable Valjean In GMHS’ ‘Les Mis,’ Dies at Age 22

Samuel J. Waters died last week at his parents’ home in Falls Church after a long, five year battle with cancer. He was two months short of his 23rd birthday.

He mesmerized and delighted an entire community with his powerful and moving tenor singing voice, including in a performance that won first prize for the Washington D.C. Metro area in the George Mason High School production of “Les Miserables” in November 2010. He was also beloved by his family, friends and classmates at Mason and Rice University, where he was in his senior year as a vocal performance major, for his generous and empathetic personality.

In his last days, he gripped the community with his unique combined spiritual and reality focus expressed by his literary skill, writing of his confrontation with ultimate things as experimental therapies were exhausted and chances for his recovery dimmed. The News-Press published those entries the last three weeks. Last week’s appeared just hours after he passed on, and his final one, entitled, “Heroes of Weakness,” is posted in its entirety on the News-Press website at this week.

An obituary was submitted by his parents, Jim and Claire Waters of Falls Church.

A commemoration of Waters was published in this Monday’s Falls Church School System daily e-mail, and it stated,
“Samuel Waters, a member of GMHS Class of 2011, passed away last week after a five-year battle with cancer. Teachers and students at GMHS treasure their memories of Samuel’s creativity, generosity, enthusiasm and talent. Community members who didn’t know him personally were moved by his performances on the GMHS stage in ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ ‘Brigadoon,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and as Jean Valjean in ‘Les Miserables;’ in choral performances and Junior Variety shows; and as an inspiring speaker at Relay for Life.

“As a student he convinced teachers to take on the extremely challenging ‘Les Mis’ and won a regional Cappie award for his performance of “Bring Him Home.” [Watch his performance of “Bring Him Home here]. Later he championed a fundraiser called “Mozart for Meals,” encouraging his friends to perform opera to raise funds and collect food for a food bank.

“Samuel was a role model to his peers and teachers, encouraging them to do their best, take risks and make a difference. He shared his talent generously and made our community a better place.”

SAM WATERS AS JEAN VALJEAN in George Mason High School’s 2010 production of “Les Miserables.” (Photo: News-Press)
SAM WATERS AS JEAN VALJEAN in George Mason High School’s 2010 production of “Les Miserables.” (Photo: News-Press)

The GMHS Les Miserables show was nominated for seven Cappies awards (for best high school musicals in the D.C. Metro area) and was named No. 1 in the U.S. with an American Prize, one of a series of such honors presented at high school, college and professional levels.

Samuel manifested a rare cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma, in the Spring of 2011 prior to his graduation from GMHS. It was in remission when in December of 2012, after a year in treatment and a semester at Rice, he spearheaded the involvement of 30 Mason High students who’d been in the Les Mis production to form a “flash mob” at the entrance to the Tysons Corner movie theater where the film version of the musical was premiering and to sing a medley of tunes from it.

It drew a large crowd. “The idea was to encourage people to see the film,” Waters told the News-Press in an interview that appeared in the paper’s Jan. 23, 2013 edition. After a full year in remission, his cancer erupted again in April 2013.

His career delighting Falls Church folks began when, being prepped to sing a “Silent Night” solo at age seven for his church’s Christmas pageant, it was discovered that he had a powerful voice and did not need a microphone.

In September 2007, at age 14, he won a contest to sing the National Anthem before a Washington Nationals baseball game, which scored him a picture on the front page of the News-Press. That fall, he and his also musically-talented brother, Tyler and a friend went door-to-door on Halloween dressed in tuxedos and singing their greetings by impersonating the “Three Tenors.”

His career at GMHS began with his role as Seymour in ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’ in 2009.

Following his passing in the early hours of January 27, huge numbers responded to a public invitation to offer their condolences to Jim and Claire Waters at their Falls Church home Sunday afternoon, that included Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly and Councilman Phil Duncan.

Tributes to Samuel Waters, including many from fellow students at Rice University whom he’d obviously impressed greatly, have continued to flood onto his Facebook page, especially since he began last September writing more lengthy and candid posts about reconciling his deteriorating health with tenets of his religious upbringing.

Samuel’s funeral will be held on Monday, Feb. 15, at 10:30 a.m. at the Cherrydale Baptist Church, 3910 Lorcom Lane, Arlington. A reception will be held immediately following.

In lieu of flowers, the family has indicated that donations are preferred to the “Samuel J. Waters Memorial Fund for the Arts” to support arts education in Falls Church Checks may be mailed to 604 Oak Haven Dr. Falls Church, Va. 22046.