‘A passion for telling the Southwest story’: Virginia health commissioner remembered by colleague


'I still don't really think that it happened'

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/WJHL) – Enthusiastic and dedicated are a few words used to describe Dr. Samuel H. Melton, who went by Hughes. The former family doctor and Mountain States Health Alliance vice president rose to the role of the Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services last year after being appointed by Gov. Ralph Northam. 

“I still don’t really think that it happened,” Marvin Figeruoa said. “I think I haven’t really gotten the time to process everything that’s happened.”

Dr. Melton died last Friday because of injuries he sustained in a multiple-vehicle car crash.

RELATED: Former Mountain States VP dies following car crash

Many colleagues around Capitol Square are still in shock that Melton won’t be around anymore. It hit Marvin Figeruoa, the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Resources, when he was waiting for his usual Monday morning meeting.

“Monday before the [conference] call, he would text me at 8:20. And he would say – ‘Are we doing the call today?,” he recalled, smiling and laughing. “Part of it was a little teasing, because he knew my reaction was going to be – ‘we’re going to talk at 8:30 like we do everyday, Hughes.” 

But that text never came this week. 

Virginia State Police say while driving on Route 254 in Augusta County, Melton’s vehicle rear ended a car in front of him. He then crossed over the center line and hit another car head-on. In that car was Hailey Green, 18, of Staunton, who died at the scene.

Green graduated from high school this year and had plans to attend Eastern Mennonite University in the fall. According to her obituary, she had an interest in healthcare and nursing. 

Authorities say Melton could have been having a medical emergency that may have caused the crash. Melton died a few days later, surrounded by loved ones. 

“We’re going to miss him in ways that we know and we don’t know,” Figueroa said. 

RELATED: Former Mountain States VP ‘may have suffered a medical emergency’ in crash that killed Virginia 18-year-old

Before being appointed as the commissioner, Melton worked with the health department, practiced as a family doctor and was an addiction expert. He also served in the military. 

Outside of work, he loved spending time with his daughters and wife. Melton was also passionate about flying and cooking for others. Figueroa recalls being invited to Melton’s house soon after beginning to work with him for a spaghetti dinner. 

“He made us this special sauce. In kind of serving Dr. Norm Oliver and I, he would go into what the sauce had, what made this sauce different from the sauce that you bought in the store,” Figueroa said. 

Figueroa also “skipped” a few 5 a.m. workout sessions with the commissioner, but he was always invited. 

When it came to work, Melton wanted to hear from everyone in the room, Figueroa says. One of his main goals was to make sure all Virginians had access to mental health services and the proper care, no matter where they lived or how much money they made. 

“He had a passion for telling the Southwest story and teaching folks that policy looks different and the services that are provided look different depending on where you are in the Commonwealth,” Figueroa said. 

Melton leaves a long legacy of service to others and encouraged all to keep working for the greater good. 

“One thing he would say is continue doing the work. So in kind of trying to live out what I know he would want me to do,” Figueroa said. “We’re going to lean on each other, and we’re going to do the work.”

A Celebration of Life will be held Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019 at Fellowship Chapel, 201 Crockett Street, Bristol, VA 24201. Visitation will begin at 2 p.m. and will end at 5 p.m., followed by a service at 5 p.m.

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