For George Worth Campbell, Jr.
August 27, 1940 – September 3, 2018
Memorial Service: September 7, 2018
Thank you for being here to celebrate our Dad’s life. It’s surreal to Duncan and me that we’re paying tribute to our father who, just last week, was going out to lunch with friends and shuffling around as normal. It’s very much as if he’s not gone yet.
Dad was one of the most beautiful people we’ve ever known. He impressed upon us, in the most gentle way, that everyone has worth. He believed in others and saw light in them, regardless of who they were. My father especially believed in Duncan and me, no matter what we were doing and no matter how little we believed in ourselves. Our father supported our plans and aspirations always, and when we struggled or floundered, he stood gently by as we found our way again. He encouraged us to follow our passions, confident that we would. And we have.
We want to tell you a few more things that Dad taught us during our lifetimes, almost always by example.
He loved his family. From day one, Dad welcomed Lauren and Kim into our lives as if they were his own daughters. And they were. Lauren says she felt as if he helped raise her. In fact, Dad may be the reason Kim and Lauren have stuck around for so long.
When his grandchildren arrived, Dad found a new love that perhaps only grandparents understand. He was such a part of their lives that he also helped raise them. He’d rearrange his schedule to attend most of their sporting events with Mom, often with his good friend Neal Sanders by his side. Dad would sit on the sidelines of the swimming pool, wrestling mat, and soccer fields, and cheer them on. He talked to our boys as if they were equals, asking them questions about their lives and listening far more than speaking. He loved you McLean, Elliott and William. Unconditionally.
Dad was an honest man, a man of principle. His mother believed he could make Abe Lincoln look like a slick liar. So we learned, on multiple occasions, the importance of living an honest life. Once, when skiing at Snowshoe, I fell face first into a 100-dollar bill. I was in love with that bill before I got up out of the snow. I’d already decided how to spend it.
Dad, on the other hand, felt it was crucial to march that hundred-dollars down to a bulletin board in the lodge. He had me write a note: “Found: a large denominational bill. If you lost one, contact George Campbell.” I did my best to write the sloppiest phone number down, and that worked. No one claimed the bill, and Dad was delighted I’d done the right thing. He turned that hundred dollars over to me after four agonizing days of waiting for a phone call. That kind of lesson – of which there were many – stuck with Duncan and me.
Speaking of money, it was not easy being the sons of a Scottish banker. There’s no more miserly creature on earth than a Scottish banker. When Duncan or I wanted a gumball from the machine at Eckerd’s Drugs, Dad would say: “What do you think I am? Made of money?” Or: “Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.” We missed out on a lot of gum.
Yet Dad was so generous throughout his life, often to complete strangers. He gave many things away. Stereo systems, still-new suits, and money for people who needed it. Duncan and I remember coming home from college to learn that Dad had given his mother’s 1954 Cadillac to a workman who’d admired it. He did the same thing with his 1974 Alfa Romeo, a car he loved; he gave it to his mechanic because he knew how much that man also loved the car. Duncan and I remain flabbergasted.
Dad was successful as a student and scholar. As children, we saw him regularly multiply three digits by three digits to figure sums for this or that. He wasn’t showing off. He was simply curious what the answer would be.
Curiosity was a trait that shaped his life. Dad was as intrigued by the 20th Century Jesus Scholars as he was by the cycle of poverty and how to interrupt it. Not too long ago, he and Henry Goldman were tossed from a Queen’s University philosophy class that they decided to attend for free. Duncan and I both teach in college and we would’ve noticed two older men in the way back of a lecture hall, but this teacher didn’t for several classes. When she finally did, the professor wasn’t mad but rather amused that two senior citizens wanted to learn from her. But, like a true academic, she kicked them out anyway.
More than his curiosity about ideas was his curiosity about people. You could never go anywhere with Dad in a timely manner because he was always stopping to talk with friends and brand-new friends alike. Laurie Johnston said it best two nights ago: “It didn’t matter who you were, or where you came from, George was interested in you and your story.”
John Johnston, also one of Dad’s closest friends, would walk with him and frequently find that Dad had stopped to watch children at play. He particularly loved children and delighted in those moments.
I won’t tell you our Dad was a perfect man. He made plenty of mistakes as a father. And he knew that. You cannot parent without making mistakes. But he always apologized. He wanted us to know that, above all else, he loved us. Duncan and I share memories of driving to the beach – or anywhere in the car really – when Dad would reach behind the driver’s seat to pat our legs out of affection. It was from my father that I learned to hug my boys to this day.
After Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I had the privilege of enjoying “porch talks.” I recorded each one and will one day edit them for our family. We talked about many meaningful things on our porch, and I learned more about his childhood and his father than I knew.
He could be remarkably practical. During one of our porch talks, I asked him if he was afraid to die. He shrugged and said he wasn’t. Why not? I asked. “Well,” he said. “Everyone has to go through it.” Dad didn’t know he was dying, yet I believe somewhere along his journey, he made peace with death.
As time progressed, our conversations slowed and we just spent time in each other’s company, occasionally commenting on the day’s beauty or on a hummingbird that fed from nectar just a few feet away. I loved how Dad delighted in each hummingbird as if seeing the amazing creature for the first time. We lived in the moment. What a gift.
Eventually, as Dad slept more and more, our porch talks transferred to his bed, where I’d lie beside him as he napped. Whenever he woke up, he’d turn to me and smile, delighted I was there. He’d reach for my hand and hold it. Whenever Duncan called from Montana, his face would light up.
It isn’t really a sad occasion that we’re here. Listen to the good news about Dad’s death. He did not forget who we were, and he never lost his sense of humor. A perfect example: Some of you are familiar with The Ivey, which provides day services for people living with dementia. Dad understood he was headed there, and he wasn’t joyful. The last time we were at the beach together, Mom called us all to dinner but Dad remained in his comfortable chair, his head back and eyes closed as if sleeping. Mom stood over him, realized he was awake, and asked what the hell he was doing. “Practicing for the Ivey,” Dad said.
We want to leave you with his consistent message to us. These are the words he said to Duncan and me right up until the end:
I’m proud of you. You’re a good man. I love you.
Dad, we say those words back to you today.
We’re proud of you. You’re a good man. And we love you.