People person: Bob Sammons enjoys a life involving others
Looking for Bob Sammons?
Try Fiesta Guadalajara, where he typically lunches multiple times a week at the same table in the southwest corner overlooking North Avenue.
Try Mesa Behavioral Medicine Clinic, 1400 N. Seventh St. Sammons normally works 60 hours a week as one of the only, if not the only, psychiatrists in private practice locally.
Try his Grand Junction home, where he lives with his wife of 32 years, Louise. Knock loudly — otherwise they may not hear you over their 1-year-old grandson, who visits often and has the run of the house.
At this point, you may be out of luck if you haven’t found him. Bob and Louise are probably at a barbecue competition out of town.
Sammons, 67, has spent most his life, in one way or another, eating with people, working with people, helping people, loving people or cooking for people. He’s a people person, always involved in something, and although Sammons has met plenty who don’t like him — he is a psychiatrist, and a self-proclaimed outspoken one at that — those closest to him say Sammons is among the most passionate and compassionate people around.
“If he cares about anything, he cares about it passionately,” Louise said, “He has a capacity for change and involvement greater than anybody I know.”
Those closest to Sammons agree that, of all his life’s passions, family is first.
“He’s so passionate about his family,” said Lupita Ramirez, administrative assistant at Mesa Behavioral Medicine Clinic.
In fact, marital and relationship problems are among the most frequent reasons patients visit Sammons’ office, he said.
The key to a successful, lasting marriage “is for each to try to do more for the partner than the partner can do for you,” Sammons said “The goal is to be the most powerfully reinforcing person in your spouse’s life.”
“I love my wife after 32 years more than I ever thought possible.”
When Sammons moved to Grand Junction with his family in 1988, shortly after his forensic psychiatry fellowship ended at the University of Virginia Medical Center, he wasted little time setting up his private practice in the area.
The difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, Sammons said, is a psychiatrist has gone through medical school and can prescribe medication.
Although he often prescribes meds, Sammons doesn’t subscribe to the notion that medication alone will fix psychiatric problems, which is why patients — he currently sees an average of 650 people — like him or leave him.
“A lot of people just want the medicine,” Sammons said. “That’s why a lot of people don’t like to come see me because I make them work. I’m going to ask you to do things to make you better.”
Every case is different, but Sammons typically requires patients to talk, listen, share and be honest. In other words, he wants his patients to be people and have an open dialogue about whatever issues or concerns prompted them to seek help.
“I enjoy working with people,” he said.
Sammons is both a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist. He received his psychology doctorate in 1984 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Yes, he was at UNC with Michael Jordan. Numerous autographed photographs of Jordan and Coach Dean Smith hang throughout the building.)
Sammons spent nearly 15 years at southern schools — he’s originally from Huntsville, Ala. — receiving various degrees and on-hands doctorate experience in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, including his final stint in Virginia in a forensic psychiatry fellowship, a specialized branch of psychiatry that, although rarely used in western Colorado, is important in the legal process.
When he moved to Grand Junction in 1988, he quickly found himself as one of the only, if not the only, criminal forensic psychiatrists on the Western Slope.
When called upon, Sammons typically testifies on behalf of the defense to a defendant’s sanity.
Not-guilty by reason of insanity is an uncommon plea here, but Sammons has seen it several times in his 25 years in Grand Junction. Actually, he turns down far more cases than he accepts by a ratio of five to one, he said.
“I’m very tough on people getting out of criminal activity by blaming it on some psychiatric defect,” he added. “There are times when patients have a psychotic illness that has caused them to act and do things they truly do not know are right from wrong. That’s pretty rare. I practice stringently to protect that group.”
Lately, Sammons has worked more with Colorado Mesa University because a college student is at the age where psychological breaks often first occur.
Given that Sammons normally spends 60 hours a week in his office, which is filled with books, photographs and all sorts of memorabilia — “It’s an antithesis of what most psychiatrists offices are. I’m a physician here to help, not some symbolic canvas for people to play out their pathology on” — it should come as no surprise that he has found solace both in his home and in his new hobby: competitive barbecuing.
After all, he’s Southern and went to school in North Carolina.
“The only thing he’s better at than barbecue is being a husband and granddaddy,” Louise said.
Originally, Sammons joined competitive barbecue events in Alabama as a way to visit family in Alabama outside the holidays. When he didn’t win, however, it changed the game.
“I’m way too competitive,” Sammons said.
Within the past five years, Sammons has taken classes, refined his skill and competed nationally as part of the Outstanding Order of the Pig Society, or OOPS.
He was a 2013 qualifier for the Chest To Chest National Brisket Championship Cook-Off and, on a smaller scale, is a regular participant in the local Colorado Pork and Hops Challenge at Lincoln Park, not to mention numerous other events.
Sammons competes in chicken, ribs, pork and brisket.
His family disagrees on what’s the best meat Sammons cooks, but Louise, his primary barbecue companion, said, “I think his pork butt is the best there ever was.”
“It’s actually really cute,” daughter Merritt Martin said. “Dad will taste. Mom will taste and make the call.”
Sammons nods his head. When competing and readying for judging, he readies two choices in each category and lets Louise pick what to present to the judges.
The competitive barbecue circuit has given Sammons an outlet where he can still socialize away from work but focus on and refine a skill. He recently went to Chicago for a weekend of classes to learn even more about competitive barbecue.
“The camaraderie, the competitive spirit is appealing,” Sammons said. “Honestly, in barbecue, you are going to know within 24 hours how you did. In psychiatry, with a patient, if they get better, you may never know.”
Perhaps Merritt Martin summed her father’s interest in competitive barbecue up best.
“The people in barbecue are just like him. They are people people.”
In an effort to help people better understand competitive barbecue, Sammons even wrote a book called “A Spectator’s Guide to Competitive Barbecue.” He published it himself.