When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

24 June 2006

For Dad

Remarks at Robert E. Campbell’s Memorial Service
Barry Campbell
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Raleigh, NC
June 24, 2006

This section of the morning’s program is entitled “Family Reflections,” and so on behalf of Bob Campbell’s immediate family, I want to thank all of you for coming this morning, to honor his memory and to celebrate his life, and to recognize the impact that his life had upon us all.

Looking out into the congregation assembled in the church today, I see so many faces of people who loved Dad, and whom Dad loved, and your very presence here is the most fitting tribute to him that I can imagine. Thank you for honoring him by getting dressed up in your nice clothes on this appallingly humid Saturday morning and coming here to stand with us and sing some hymns and remember Bob Campbell.

So many of you have shown us so much kindness during Dad’s final days, and after his passing, and we are thankful and appreciative for that, more than I can tell you.

Fathers and sons are complicated business, and a lot of people who are more articulate and much more interesting than I am have had a lot to say about that. I only plan to speak for a very few minutes, and if I tried to tell you all that my father meant to me, we’d still be going strong as the sun came up tomorrow morning.

For my part, I will simply say that when Bob Campbell died last October, I lost not only my father, but I lost a very dear friend as well.

Because he was so sick, for so long, before he died, I can truthfully say that I am not sorry, but relieved, that he is now at rest and free from pain and suffering. But I do feel sorrow, and a deep sense of loss, for myself, because I can’t pick up the phone, or get on a plane or slide behind the wheel of a car, and go and visit with my father and my friend.

And at least once or twice a week something happens, at work, or in the news, or in a conversation that I have with someone, that I know would either completely delight him, or absolutely outrage him, or some unforeseen combination of both of those things, and for a fraction of a second I forget that I can’t pick up the phone and call him any more, and then I remember and my heart sinks, and I expect it will be a long time before I—or any of us, really—will get over that particular feeling.

No, I am not sorry that my father, and my friend, is at rest. But I do feel a little sorry for myself that he’s not around.

And I kind of wish I didn’t, because “feeling sorry for yourself” is not something that Bob Campbell had a lot of room for in his life. He needed an enormous amount of personal strength and character to face the challenges that he had to face in this life, and he had those qualities in abundance.

Of course, it was Father’s Day last weekend, and next week Bob would have turned 70 years old. This was my first Father’s Day without him, and it started me thinking about the last Father’s Day I spent with him, last year when he was staying over at Blue Ridge Health Care, a “skilled nursing care facility,” because according to the insurance folks, he was too sick to come home but not sick enough to remain in the hospital.

Until a day or two before I came down, I hadn’t actually known that I was going to do it. But I got a last-minute flight, rented a car out at RDU, and drove out (without announcement or warning) to visit him in his temporary quarters.

He was of course already quite ill, and really just simply exhausted, but when I showed up in his doorway unexpectedly, the first words out of his mouth were “What are you doing here?”, delivered with a mischievous grin that all of you would have recognized, I’m sure.

(Actually, that’s not precisely what he said, but that’s the version that I’m comfortable repeating in church.)

We visited for a few hours, and watched part of a stock car race, and joked around a little bit, like we always did. It wasn’t too long after that before he really didn’t have enough energy even to do that, and when Bob didn’t have the time or inclination to tell a joke or a funny story, we all knew that things were dire indeed.

So I’m so glad that we had that last Father’s Day together.

Bob Campbell set an example for me, and for everyone who knew him, about the power of a positive attitude and the value of persistence. I want to leave you with this thought.

In the kitchen of my parents’ house, taped to the inside of a cabinet door, there is a yellowed newspaper clipping from 1973, which contains a famous quotation uttered quite a few years earlier by, of all people, Calvin Coolidge, a man so reserved and reticent in his public pronouncements that he earned the nickname “Silent Cal.”

But on the subject of the value of persistence, which is something that I think both of my parents could probably tell you a lot about, he had this to say, and Bob and Betty liked it enough to cut it out of the newspaper and tape it to the kitchen cabinet door:

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "Press On!" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

Thank you again for coming, and again, speaking on behalf of the family now, I would like to invite all of you to stay after the service and join us for lunch in the Fellowship Hall of the church, to share your memories of Bob Campbell with us and with each other.

And if you’ve heard any good jokes lately, I hope you’ll share those too.

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