Tag Archives: Eileen Driscoll Campbell

My Mother’s Easter

Dean's christening, with Bruce

Dean’s christening, with Bruce

My Mom loved Easter, and not just for the stylish hats, spectator shoes and forsythia blossoms that made their spring appearance. It was truly a time of resurrection, when God made good on his promise to save the world.

In 1954, Easter fell on April 18 – almost as late in the season as this year’s. Six months earlier, Mom and Dad had lost their baby, their little girl Midge, to leukemia. Diagnosed at one year old, it had been brutal to watch Midge’s final remission end after more than two years of experimental treatments. Midge was not yet four.

When Easter arrived the following spring, Mom was big with child, and alone. The Marine Corps had delayed Dad’s solo posting to Japan as long as possible, but he was overseas as Mom faced the imminent birth of their fourth child.

It could have been a terrible time. In fact, one of the Naval medical professionals had advised Mom to abort the pregnancy, saying it would be too much for her psychologically given Midge’s terminal illness. I’d like to have seen the look Mom gave that doctor or heard her response. Never one to hold back, I am certain she gave him — and it was almost certainly a him — what for.

I imagine Mom looking out the window at the yellow forsythia, watching the earth renew itself, her hand resting on her large belly. After three pregnancies, I’m sure she knew her time was near.

Two days later, on April 20, she welcomed my brother Dean into the world. Dad said later, “It was as if the sun came out.”

Happy birthday, Dean. I know Mom is thinking of you today, and so am I.

Mom, Nana and I with Easter hats, by the forsythia, in 1961

Mom, Nana and me: with Easter hats, by the forsythia, in 1961






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After: the Pull of Family, Redefined

Circa 1960 - Dean, Scott, Betsy, BruceJust before flying to Washington DC for the burial, I laughed when my son and I passed through the New Age vortex that is City of Mt. Shasta on our drive with his belongings back to college. “Amorandre’a” promised “evolutionary transformation sessions and workshops transforming the Body Mind to the level of the Atom.”

I’m remembering the “stick and ball” model of a testosterone molecule that my son had to create in 7th grade. The atoms (balls) of the model had to be connected with bonds (toothpicks) that shaped them into the angles dictated by nature: straight lines, angles and tetrahedrals. The shapes aren’t created by logic; the atoms are propelled and repelled into relationship with one another.

In the absence of Mom and Dad, we are forming new bonds across family units, relationships that seem to have an agency of their own.

After Dad died, one of the big questions that seemed to float in space before me was, “Who is my family now?” The phrase, “Friends are the family you choose,” implied to me a corollary: that family was something I could choose to define. I now think that was too simplistic.

My brothers and I are very different. We look different, we have different temperaments and we grew up in different eras. Mom and Dad’s life experience changed the way that they parented by the time my youngest brother and I entered the picture, so effectively we grew up with different parents.

In the months that have followed Dad’s death, I have increasingly felt that my brothers and I belong together, that they belong in my life and I in theirs. In the Marine Corps, you receive your “standard issue,” the equipment that you are expected to maintain. Take care of your equipment and it will take care of you. My brothers are my “issue.” I am theirs. We don’t get to exchange. We have to discover and value each other as we are.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about our weekend in D.C. – with 20 of us present – was the way that new relationships took shape.

Some of us were just plain new to each other. My nephew remarried and the weekend was the first opportunity his spouse and step-children to meet our clan. My brother’s fairly recently adopted teenage son is finding his way into the family, something that’s new to him after spending most of his life with foster families.

Family members’ messages popped up on Facebook:

The only thing I regret about my life is not having all the people I love in one place. Goodbyes are hard, so …let’s just say see you later.

one thing i hate: one day your having fun with family the next day you have to enter reality again grrrrr 

finally home whoooooo!!!!!!!! happy but sad to leave family 

At Washington National Cathedral Sunday, the jumping-off point for the sermon was a discussion of family. The Dean of the Cathedral, Dean Hall, said he was skeptical about the nuclear family; the Hebrew Bible, after all, unfolds like a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving dinner (remember Cain and Abel?). Though the family is the structure we’ve developed for mutual support and nurture, it “contains all of the contradictions of what it means to be human.” He went on to say that family alone cannot sustain us, that Jesus alone offers us a community, “a table where all are welcome and equal.”

Mom and Dad left us all a legacy, a multi-faceted legacy of the things they so obviously believed in, through their actions. One of the most important things they stood for was family.

They felt present to me throughout the long weekend that followed the burial on Thursday. I felt their smile as they watched us stumble our way toward one another.

This message, from my niece, said it best:

A wise man once gave me advice that changed the way I thought about life. He told me that family is the meaning of life. He said to me that try as we might, most of us will never do the sort of things about which great books are written. In time, the world will forget all but a very few of us. But in the hearts of those we love, lies our chance to be remembered. 

The wise man was my grandfather. I thought of his words today as I watched the faces of my family gathered to remember. I can’t help thinking that my grandparents’ story isn’t over. They may be laid to rest among heroes, but theirs was not a war story. It was a love story, and it’s one that is still being written.

The pen is in our hands now. Let us remember well, and may we never stop writing. 

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Photo cityoflennoxsd

I’m in a time warp. Everything at home is just as I left it, last Sunday’s paper mostly unread, the Sunday NYTimes Magazine still open to an article about the mid-career time out, cat toys on the coffee table. But the shriveled tomatoes and brown mangoes on the counter remind me that I’ve been gone for a week, as does the cat who won’t let me out of his sight.

When I see the souvenirs on my desk from a July trip to Japan, I expect to see dust. How could that have been just three weeks ago?

It feels as if I’ve been gone longer. I feel… different.

I didn’t expect to experience a greater sense of finality by burying Mom and Dad at Arlington last Thursday. “There’s a sense of closure,” a family member suggested before I left Washington, D.C.

No, that’s not it. Not it at all. Nothing felt unclosed.

This feels more like coming to the end of an enthralling book series that, in its coda, left me with certainty that my favorite characters could not return. There will be more books, but the plot will move on. New characters will be introduced. But the new protagonists will never quite equal that first story and I will not forget.

This feels final.

My role was final. At Washington National Cathedral yesterday, the second reading had this phrase: “…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” (from Hebrews 11:29-12:2)

God knows Dad ran his race with perseverance, caring about all of us, and for us, to the end.

We persevered, too.

I finished what I promised Mom when she thought she was dying in the hospital: I took care of Dad.

I finished gathering the family for this final event.

My brothers and I finished the final task set for us: Mom and Dad’s wish to be buried next to Midge at Arlington.

We did it.

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A Bouquet of Adjectives for my Mom

Eileen Driscoll Campbell in 1993

It’s been a long time since I have looked at my mother’s obituary, but in reviewing it, I’m really glad that we took the approach we did, painting a colorful portrait of her colorful life.

Eileen Driscoll Campbell was known by many people in several communities for her forthright and outspoken style, tenacity, strength, intelligence, energy, wit, selflessness, strong leadership abilities and – most of all – her deep love for and commitment to her family.

Born on July 3, 1917 in Boise, ID, she was utterly devoted to the important relationships in her life – to her husband, children, parents, church and community. She passed away on May 10, 1999, at her home in University Place, WA, holding the hand of her husband, Henry Snively Campbell, to whom she was married for 57 years.

Eileen met Henry at the University of Washington during the spring of their senior year in 1939; Eileen had transferred from Mills College after her freshman year. Both were enrolled in an elective course on Browning’s “The Ring and the Book” narrative poem, taught by the UW’s “Dean” of English literature, Dr. Padelford. Henry recalled seeing “this vision enter the room, dressed to the nines.” For the first two weeks, Eileen left the class on the arm of their mutual friend, Brook Fink. After that, Eileen left on Henry’s arm. Eileen was active in Gamma Phi Beta sorority during college and as an alumna.

Anticipating the US entry into World War II, Henry was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve in May, 1941. After receiving a letter from Henry in early December, Eileen boarded the train with her mother from Boise to join Henry in Quantico, VA. The two were married a short time later on December 26, 1941.

Eileen loved babies and children. The couple became parents for the first time in November, 1942, with the arrival of Scott Driscoll Campbell. She devoted her life to building and caring for her family, which over 15 years grew to include Bruce Harrison Campbell, Madeline (“Midge”) Elizabeth Campbell, Dean Driscoll Campbell and Elizabeth (“Betsy”) Harrison Campbell.

Just prior to Eileen’s diagnosis of lung cancer, the family gathered for a family portrait following Christmas. Eileen sits smiling in the center holding her newborn great grandson, surrounded by her husband, children, two daughters-in-law, son-in-law and six grandchildren. Scott and his wife, Pat Ford Campbell, live in Seattle. Scott’s son, Marc Christopher Campbell, lives in Mesa, AZ, with his wife, Jennifer, and their newborn, Henry Scott Campbell. Bruce and his son, Vincent Manzari Campbell, live in San Diego, CA. Bruce’s daughter, Cassandra Eileen Campbell, lives in Seattle. Also residing in Seattle are Dean, his wife, Gwendolyn Snyder Campbell, and their daughter, Alison Rose Campbell. Betsy lives in Davis, CA, with her husband, Todd Stone, and their two children, Madeline Follis Stone and Thomas Milton Stone. Eileen and Henry’s third child, Madeline, died in October 1953 of leukemia and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Eileen is also survived by: her cousin, Donald Clark, of Nampa, ID; her niece, Louise Campbell Ulbricht, and grandniece, Mary Ulbricht of Tacoma; her nephew, William F. Campbell, Jr.; his wife, Margaret, of Yakima, WA; and her godchild, Lynn Fawcett Whiting of Bliss, ID.

She was a devoted officer’s wife who supported Henry’s successful career in the US Marine Corps. The couple lived in the Washington, D.C., area for several tours of duty including Henry’s service as Executive Officer of Marine Barracks between 1957 and 1959, during which he was promoted to Colonel. Henry also served as the US Marine Corps member of the Directing Staff of the Canadian Army Staff College, Kingston, Ontario, between 1955 and 1957. The couple moved to Washington state following Henry’s retirement from the Marine Corps following his heart attack in Honolulu, HI, in 1963. Henry continued his career with Weyerhaeuser Co.

Eileen approached their civilian life with equal gusto, becoming a leader of many church, community service, and arts groups in Seattle, Everett, and Tacoma, WA.

Eileen’s Christian faith was central to her life. To Eileen, being a part of a community was synonymous with active participation in church. She fondly remembered Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. She was an active member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Mission (later Parish) in Everett, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Tacoma. She chaired the Vestry of St. Andrew’s several times and was instrumental in the church’s incorporation efforts. She served as president of the Episcopal Church Women and St. Mary’s Guild, and contributed her time to many church support guilds, including the Altar Guild and Wedding Guild.

Eileen was a strong proponent of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, a philanthropic educational organization. She served three terms as president of Chapter CA, twice in the 1970s and the third time in 1981-82.

She participated actively in children’s school activities, leading an Indian Guides group in Kensington, MD, serving as den mother in Seattle, WA and marshaling an effort to build Curtis High School’s first entry in the Daffodil Festival Parade in 1975.

Having studied and sung opera as a soprano during her music studies at the University of Washington, Eileen’s interest in opera was passionate. She was an active member of the opera guilds of Seattle and Tacoma and served as president of the group in Everett. Eileen also was an active participant in pediatric orthopedic guilds in Seattle and Tacoma.

Eileen attributed the importance she placed on relationships to her parents, Madeline Spieles Driscoll and Dean Driscoll, a Harvard-trained attorney who practiced in Boise. Eileen also was devoted to her grandmother, Hannah, whom she credited for her tenacity and positive attitude. She was proud of the family’s Irish heritage and its role in settling the West.

Services are scheduled for Saturday, May 15, beginning at 2 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church located at 12th and Jackson Streets in Tacoma. An informal reception will follow in the church parish hall. In lieu of flowers, unrestricted gifts are welcome to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Those who celebrate her life are encouraged to wear red or bright colors, reflecting Eileen’s vibrant approach to living.

Eileen leaves a gaping hold in the lives of all who loved her. In another sense, she filled many holes with her fierce brand of love and devotion. She was much loved by her family and the many others whose lives she touched. Her memory will be cherished profoundly.

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Family Life with the Marine Corps

(Fourth in a family legacy series. Subject to revisions by my brothers!)

After defeating monstrous evil in the world, modern America breathed into being in the last gasps of 1945. As Life magazine noted in its special edition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the war’s end, Bogie married Bacall, Jackie Robinson was hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers and Bess Myerson became the first Jewish Miss America. Detroit wasted no time gearing up, producing 2.1 million cars, a 2,500% increase, in 1946. With a half million people living in quonset huts and many more bunking with relatives, the GI Bill’s mortgage program sent people flocking to newly created suburbs.

Eileen settled in with Hank, Scotty and her mother in Alexandria, VA.

Eileen Campbell and Scott

Eileen – and most likely it was Eileen who set the schedule – gave the couple 18 months before saying “oh what the hell” and conceiving Bruce, who was born June 29, 1947. (An alternative explanation was a miscarriage, which she mentioned she had somewhere along the line.) Although he was a healthy, happy boy, Eileen and Hank must have been concerned for the surgeries he would have to undergo to repair a cleft lip.

Bruce Campbell

Eileen, Madeline, Scotty (now five) and baby Bruce settled in to life as a normal post-war married couple.

Eileen’s photo albums from the late 40s seem to be lost, but she undoubtedly enjoyed the freedom from the many wartime restrictions on the purchase of food, stockings and fabric for dresses.

Hank took up his post in the G-1 Division at Marine Corps Headquarters in March 1946, the group that included the Commandant and various staff functions. He landed at HQ just as a lively discussion began about the possible unification of the four Armed Forces. Perhaps that’s why Henry always corrected someone when they suggested he was in the “military”; as far as Henry was concerned, he was a Marine. In 1945, Adm. William Halsey was quoted as saying, “One might just as well as a committee composed of a Protestant, a Catholic and a Jew to save our national souls by recommending a national church and creed.” The discussion about unification continued into the late 1950s as the cold war raged.

In 1949, the family moved to Worthington, Ohio for just over a year when the Marines sent Henry to the Navy Post Graduate School at Ohio State University in Columbus. By then, Eileen was pregnant, and their daughter Madeline, known as Midge, was born on January 18, 1950.

Madeline Elizabeth Campbell - first year photos

After completing his course work in Ohio in 1950 (personnel administration and training), Henry was assigned to the Office of Manpower Utilization at the Department of Defense, with offices at the Pentagon. Eileen packed up again, and moved the family into 4213 Matthews Lane in Kensington, MD, which had become a commuter suburb for Washington, DC. They jumped back into the fray, getting Scott established in school and signed up for Cub Scouts.  As Den Mother, Eileen led a summer project making “Indian” outfits and war shields (cotton muslin stretched over hoops). Meanwhile, Bruce played cowboy, refusing to take his boots off, even at night.

Bruce's 4th birthday

Bruce’s 4th birthday

It was during Henry’s duty at Department of Defense that the couple suspected something was wrong with little Midge. Henry’s brother, Ed Campbell, a hematologist-oncologist in Boston, diagnosed her as having leukemia. At the time, nearly all children with leukemia died (compared to the current survival rate in excess of 80%). Uncle Ed treated Midge with an experimental regimen of corticosteroids, supervising her care and that of other children at Walter Reed Hospital. Her pictures show her growing progressively heavier as a side effect of the medication.

Uncle Ed with Midge

Uncle Ed with Midge

As Midge became sicker, the family spent as much time together as possible, including treasured days on vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware during the summer of 1953.

1953midgemomdad copy

Henry’s most painful memory wasn’t the war. It was Midge’s final days. After being in remission for a period, she sickened and was in an oxygen tent in the hospital. He remembered her calling out to him, “Daddy, help me.” He could do nothing, he said, and pounded his head against the wall in the hallway in frustration. She died on October 22, 1953, months before her fourth birthday.

In February 1954, having delayed his departure as long as possible, the Marines sent Henry on a solo tour to Gifu, Japan, where he assigned to serve as Division Assistant G-2 for the 3rd Marines. In rapid succession, he became Executive Officer of the 9th Marines and then Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines.

Eileen had learned she was pregnant about the time that Midge’s health deteriorated. Medical officers advised her to abort the baby, suggesting that the stress would be too great for her. She would have none of it.

Henry’s letter to Eileen from Gifu, lost during his move to California, spoke of his agony in not being able to be with her in the period of mourning following Midge’s death. When Dean was born on April 20, 1954, “it was as if the sun came up,” Henry would say later. Within weeks, Dean needed a haircut.

Dean's christening

dean's first haircut


Henry’s pictures and stories suggest he did have some light moments in Gifu. He and Cliff Atkins shared a small cottage and had a housemaid named Musemei. “Around that time,” Henry said, “there was a political movement afoot in the Pentagon to try to fashion the Marines, Navy, Army and Air Force into a single armed force.  This led to us receiving a message from the Commandant which read, ‘No longer shine your leather with cordovan polish.  Polish it tan like the Army.’  We handed our shoes and belts to Musemei and asked her to shine them with tan polish instead.  ‘Hai, hai,’ she said.  About a week later, we received another message from the Commandant.  This one said, ‘Disregard former message.  Shine your leather cordovan.’  Henry called Musemei in and told her to change all of the belts and shoes back to cordovan colored polish.  Her response:  ‘Goddam Marine Corps.  All time changie changie.'”


By this time, Henry had been promoted to Major. He acknowledged that he had benefited from rapid transfers during his career and noted that that there were 37,500 men in the Marine Corps before WWII, and well over 500,000 by the end of the war.

With two children, a baby, her mother and Buffy the dog, Eileen was relieved when he returned from Japan in April 1955. She wrote on a picture, “The plane that brought him home.” Soon, however, it was time to pack up again and move the family to Kingston, Ontario, where Henry began a two year assignment as instructor at Canadian Army Staff College.

Eileen and Henry loved being back together and reveled in the camaraderie of the Canadians who were notorious for party games like passing the orange (without the use of hands) and curling (a form of shuffleboard played on an ice rink involving brooms and granite stones).


Scott, at 13, made friends with the locals and skated with them on the St. Lawrence River. Bruce took his turn as a Cub Scout. Dean, meanwhile, bravely set off in the neighborhood at two years old, going door to door. When a nice lady opened the door, he would announce, “I’ve come for my milk and cookies.” “How could I say no,” neighbors would tell Eileen. Henry later said that he used to worry about Dean the most because he was so trusting.

That open-eyed naïveté led to an incident that became family lore. When Dean was about three, Eileen realized that he wasn’t at the house. She immediately began canvassing the neighborhood, learning that another small boy was missing. Eventually their search took them down to the nearby St. Lawrence River, where the ice was begin to break up and ice floes float out into the river. There was Dean and his little friend. Eileen took a two by four and paddled his fanny all the way home.



Dean Campbell

Weeks before returning for Henry’s assignment as Executive Officer, Marine Barracks, Betsy was born (Elizabeth Harrison) on June 15, 1957. The family packed up and settled back in Kensington again, this time at 9916 Old Spring Road.

This would have been the sixth move that Eileen managed. Each time they arrived at a new post, she paid a social visit to the Commanding Officer’s wife, calling card in hand, as expected. She joined the Officers’ Wives Club, and did an exemplary job of supporting their activities. She loved Washington, D.C. and the social whirl that went with an officer’s life in those days.

Henry and the Commanding Officer of Marine Barracks, then-Col. Leonard Chapman, innovated the evening parade a Marine Barracks, a proud tradition that continues today. Within a year, Col. Chapman – who Eileen called “Chappie” – was promoted to Brigadier General. He became the 24th Commandant of the nation’s oldest armed force in 1967.

1959chappie copy 2

Welcoming the Secretary of Defense

Welcoming the Secretary of Defense

In July 1959, Henry received his Colonel’s eagles and was assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps as Head of the Officer Detail Section. In an interview in 2000, he shared this explanation of his role:

“I spent two years as head of officer detail, a high visibility job. I had some very good junior officers and had read all of their fitness reports.  I said, “I have great respect for you, or you wouldn’t be here.  On your integrity relies the efficiency of the Marine Corps.  I will not permit anyone to play favorites or I’ll skin you alive.

“Not long after I joined the Officer of Manpower Utilization, Gen. Jim Masters, head of the intelligence section of Headquarters Marine Corps, called me to his office.  Had a young infantry man with him, a Captain, and told me he felt he was being mis-assigned to a staff job.  I pulled his record – he was a good man.  He’d been in Fleet Marine Force for 7 years, a great job, but he needed to let others have that opportunity.

“I called in Andy Hedish. We agreed the best thing we could do was order him to Marine Corps HQ and get his feet wet. I talked to Gen. Masters and said, ‘His transfer is strictly according to policy.  He needs staff experience.’  He just sat there and looked at me.   I said, ‘I have no doubt that the way to advancement is not by saying no to superior officers.  But I told my men if I caught them playing footsie, I’d skin them alive.  I can do no less.  If you have a problem with that, you should talk to my superior officer.’  I walked out.  The junior officer went to the staff job.  I heard no more about it.  There’s no power involved.  The policies are very carefully thought out.

“There was one exception and it was me.  I’d been in grad school at Ohio State in personnel administration and training.  I’d been assigned to the Military Occupational Project.   The joint staff at the end of WWII recognized there are people with very highly placed skills who end up being misplaced during the war.  They needed more info about what jobs  require people with high level skills and who the people are with those skills.

“They had 300 people working on it, led by Col. Dunn.  Because I’d been to this advanced schooling, I was assigned as the Marine Corps’ representative.  The joker is that I had Marine Corps HQ looking over my shoulder.

“The thing got bent around so that they decided to divide people by intelligence, based on their score on a test.  Navy said, ‘We have all the ships, we should have all of the brightest people.’  Air Force said the same thing.  Army said, ‘Bullshit!’  That’s what pulled the thing apart; they couldn’t agree.

“I convened a meeting with one representative of each force.  The Army guy was completely out of his depth.  Rubens asked, ‘Can we agree to this (I forget the details)?’  The proposal was a ringer.  If we agreed to the principles to take all the bright guys and give them to Navy or Army, what would the consequences be?  It was apparent this was a trap.  I said, ‘I’d like to say a few words.  Recognize that if we agree to this, we have agreed to everything else.’  All realized they needed to confer.  Rubens offered me a job!

“Gen. (David) Shoup (who later was Commandant) wanted to have a presentation made on all of the non-availables.  When you did a plan, you set aside a certain number of people for the “Jesus factor” – on leave, sick, etc.  That number runs about 80% for planning figures.  The meeting was to be a formal briefing in Gen. Larson’s office. ‘Who wants to do it, Gen. Larson asked. I said, ‘General, I’ll do it.’  I was assigned a planning officer to do the legwork.  He and I did our skull practice.  We took three slices of the entire Marine Corps on a given day and looked at where they were, using the latest records.  We counted every one of ‘em.  Not long before, we had instituted a transplacement battalion, which replaced an entire battalion at one shot.  It represented an enormous advance in a battle situation backfilling a battalion with individual replacements, where they don’t know their officers.  Transplacements are intact teams that remain together, and they can fight.  After Iwo Jima, the teams were broken. When a transplacement battalion was placed, you had a big flow of non-availables that week.  We made our presentation to the Commandant.  Then I stood by to take questions.  Gen. Shoup said, ‘Col., that’s an excellent presentation.’  He greeted me by name after that.  You can see why I hated to leave the Marine Corps.  I had an absolute ball.”

The Marines sent Henry for advanced education again in 1961, this time to the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C., after which he was assigned to Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific in Honolulu.

Dean on Old Spring Road

Dean on Old Spring Road

Three months before the family was due to travel to Honolulu, Eileen’s mother died. Betsy remembers being unable to wake her Nana from her nap. At 76 years of age, she had had a heart attack.



Buffy, the family’s beloved cocker spaniel, was deemed too old to make the 5,000 mile trip or survive the required quarantine upon arriving in the islands. Off the family of six headed across the country toward San Francisco with Bruce and Scott driving one, while Henry, Eileen, Dean and Betsy rode in the other.

Driving cross country

Driving cross-country

Although airliners became popular as a model of travel from the mainland to Hawaii in the early 1960s, the Campbell family cruised to Honolulu on the luxury ocean liner, the SS Lurline. As the top-ranking officer on board, the family enjoyed the Admiral’s quarters. The family arrived deeply tanned after their ocean crossing (except for Betsy, who remembered being dosed liberally with Dramamine to prevent seasickness).

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 10.03.24 PM

July 24, 1962 - Arriving in Hawaii

As Henry assumed his duties, the family settled into Pearl Harbor’s housing community, Makalapa. In the fall, Bruce attended Punahou, a private high school, Dean entered 3rd grade and Betsy started kindergarden.

Scott and Bruce took surfing lessons from a guy named Rabbit Kekai, a native Hawaiian who was a well-known surfer on Oahu, who worked at the Outrigger Canoe Club on Waikiki. Scott said, “Dad was really great about turning us loose with the family Chevy Corvair, and we’d load our surf boards on the roof and head off to whatever beach had good waves.”

Eileen grew her hair longer and pinned it up in a French twist, donning island muumuus for comfort. With help at home in the form of a Japanese maid, she had time for hobbies and took courses in Japanese flower arranging. Her spare, elegant creations were set in low bowls held by “frogs” that were camouflaged with pastel sea glass she found washed up on the beach. She collected Japanese “mud men” statuettes and sometimes added them to her designs. The family’s furnishings were adapted for the islands, too, with rataan furniture and electrified white ginger jars lamps with illuminated bases. The house smelled of plumeria, Brownie Surfrider suntan lotion and the pungent salt-and-grass smell of tatami mats.


For social events, Eileen learned to make Asian- and Hawaiian-influenced “heavy pupus,” appetizers such as tempura, won tons and teriyaki-marinated chicken mock drumsticks. She even purchased some heavy, red silk brocade with the intention of having a cheongsam dress made for her. While demure at the neckline and buttoned to the throat with frog closures, they often have a dramatic slit in the side seam. While being fitted, Eileen reported that she tried to get the seamstress to make a slit to just above the knee. The seamstress kept pointing to a spot lower on Eileen’s calf, repeating, “Not Chinese lady.”

In his last years, Henry often remembered jumping up and down in the waves at Barber’s Point with Betsy on his shoulders (which they learned later had a notorious riptide). Looking back, it may have been days before the event that changed the family’s life.

Dad near Barber's Point, 1962

1962betsy copy

Henry felt a crushing pain in his chest and asked Scott to take him to the base clinic, where they quickly recognized he was having a heart attack and directed him to go to the hospital. In the 1960s, the chance of dying immediately after a heart attack was 30 to 40%. Even survivors might never be able to work again. For that reason, having a heart attack was cause for automatic and full retirement. Henry’s career in the Marine Corps abruptly ended.

As Henry was recovering, Eileen was hospitalized for emergency gall bladder surgery. Before she came home, Betsy was mauled in the throat and face by a neighbor’s German Shepherd. The family moved off base, to a house on the east side of Diamond Head, several blocks from the beach. The family was walking wounded by the time they sailed to the West Coast to begin a new life in the cooler climes of Western Washington, as suggested by Henry’s physicians.

Next: Civilian life in the Pacific Northwest


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Bringing Back Mom

I stopped talking about Mom the past two years. As Dad’s memory faded, he no longer seemed to mourn her. When I did bring up the topic of Mom – perhaps commented on something she would have enjoyed or her birthday – his pain was visible. So I stopped bringing her up.

But now we are preparing to bury Mom and Dad in the plot at Arlington National Cemetery that was reserved for them when they buried my sister Midge there in 1953. I’ve set an ambitious goal for myself to write some sort of a legacy book for the family, something that tells the story of Mom’s Driscoll side as well as Dad’s Harrison/Snively/Campbell clan.

I’m posting bits of memories here, augmented by some historical stuff. Since this series of posts is not about the experience of caring for or losing a parent, its primary interest for readers may be as a peek at life in the West in the early 20th century. Because Mom was Eileen long before she was Mom, I refer to her by her birth name when I get to the section about her personal history before my brothers and I came along.

* * *

Dad said it best, “Eileen is a personage.”  Eileen Driscoll Campbell did more than fill up her corner of space. She could fill a room with her personal power and presence, and she influenced the course of everything and everyone around her.


The older I got, the more I wondered how it was that my parents were 40 and 41 when I was born, when most of my friends’ parents were younger. My brothers are 15, 10 and 3 years older than I am.

Eventually I became old enough to ask whether I was planned. Mom would demur, answering only, “Every once in a while, we just said oh what the hell.”

Two characteristics were apparent in her statement: she wasn’t hung up on being proper, though she was every inch a lady, and she had the ability to live in the moment.

Some of that character came from being an only child. Born on July 3, 1917 in Boise, her mother, Madeline (born Maude Grace Spieles on Nov. 30, 1885 in Chicago) and father, Dean (born April 24, 1883 in Tekamah, Nebraska) met and married only two years prior, in 1915.  When Eileen was born, they were 31 and 34, old for the times.

But some of Eileen’s independent streak may have derived from growing up in the West, when the West was still wild. Eileen had grown up on her grandmother Hannah’s knees, hearing stories about how “Han-Han” came “West”… when the West was Minnesota.

Hannah Driscoll, 1935

Hannah Driscoll, 1935

Hannah’s family left Pennsylvania to take advantage of land grants created under the Homestead Act, claimed 160 acres of land in Martin County, and erected a rudimentary sod house on the prairie. After almost 10 years, they gave up, tired of Minnesota’s terrible blizzards lasting days, the menace of prairie fires and the last straw, the grasshopper scourge of 1873. “Settling to the earth they were a crawling mass devouring every green thing except the wild greens,” Hannah wrote in her memoir.

In 1874, the family struck out for Nebraska in two horse-drawn covered wagons, where they established a farm in Tehama. Hannah married John Driscoll in 1881, who landed in town following his discharge from the 64th N.Y. voluntary infantry after the end of the Civil War. When John’s health failed, years later, they sold the bank and lumberyard John had established, and struck out for the west coast. The family had tickets to the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1905, but never made it farther than Boise, where they permanently settled.

Mom's father, Dean Driscoll

Mom’s father, Dean Driscoll

Dean’s photo album from the early 1900s look like a movie set, with Native Americans on the streets and horse-drawn carriages. Letters from John to his Dean’s younger brother Lynn, away at college, shared news big and little of Boise (population 17,000) at the turn of the 20th century: a visit by William Jennings Bryan, foreclosures of businesses by the Sheriff, plunging land values, small pox and ptomaine poisoning outbreaks, fatal auto accidents as cars replaced horseless carriages, an arrest of an acquaintance for insulting a woman (“he said he was drunk”) and the institutionalization of another into a “mental asylum” in Seattle.

Eileen must have felt the world ripped out from under her when her father died in February 1941 of hypertension. It is perhaps because of his early death, at the age of 58, that we heard so much about Dean.

Eileen and her mother were extraordinarily proud of Dean’s reputation in the community as a respected attorney in private practice and later as a one-term Representative to the state legislature and Assistant Attorney General. (Aunt Janie, Grandmother Campbell’s sister, apparently had a real snit about the Driscoll focus on Dean, writing from Oceanside where Dad had returned home from the war, “I am so sick of Mrs. D’s everlasting hammering on the Driscolls.”) A Harvard Law School graduate, Dean was admitted to practice at the U.S. Supreme Court, though he never argued a case before it.

Short (5’6″) and energetic, he had a shock of thick brown hair and dressed immaculately, never appearing on the streets of Boise without a fresh flower in the lapel buttonhole of his fresh white Palm Beach suit in the summertime (and rarely without an Antony Y Cleopatra cigar parked in his mouth). The buttonhole flower came from his mother Hannah’s yard “starting with the snowdrops, first flowers through the snow, and as spring and summer progressed, violets, lily-of-the-valley, pansies, pinks, through the fall-flowering marigolds,” Mom wrote in a letter to historian Gwynn Barrett to assist in his research for a book on Uncle Lynn. Dean had a strong sense of duty to his parents and stopped to visit his mother on the way to the office every morning, eating buckwheat pancakes whenever they were offered.

Despite his reputation, the Driscolls weren’t wealthy. His income level may have been due to the small town nature of a law practice. In a letter in 1912 to Lynn, Dean’s father wrote, “…Dean says he has made $200 a month since he commenced business but has only collected $400 of it. He is well satisfied but I hope he will get money soon as I have been putting up for him so far….”

Dean held most of the details of his law practice close to the chest, but we know he represented immigrant communities including Basque Americans, which had (and has) the largest concentration in the U.S.; in Mom’s last years, lamb was the dinner entree for which she always had an appetite, a holdover from her memories of participating in the Basque community’s annual lambing camp. She recalled that her Dad could dance the traditional La Jota, and Christmas Eve dinners didn’t begin until her father had stopped by the Archabals, a Basque sheep ranching family. He was posthumously awarded the Order of the White Rose of Finland for service to that community as chairman of the State for the Finnish Relief Fund.

He liked vigorous sports and sparred with professional boxers when they came to town.  Mom later wrote that he like long runs – “five miles at least” – up into the foothills. At the Y, he played handball often and boxed nearly every day, in addition to playing on the “Bankers” Twilight Baseball League team.

Mom wrote:

“The first thing anyone should say about Dean Driscoll is that he had absolute integrity. I don’t think it was possible for him to compromise — or “adjust” or “compensate,” as we say these days. He had extremely high standards of ethics and performance for himself (probably a contributing factor to the high blood pressure which killed him) and for those close to him. And he simply didn’t bother with people who didn’t meet those standards.”

Mom also wrote that her Dad had a “keen wit and sense of humor and was a master at rather cutting repartee. He used words sparingly – but very much to the point – and often devastatingly.”

Pranks were big in those days, and Mom remembered this story of his youthful mischief: when a minister came to visit and put his hat near the heater, Dean slipped a piece of Limburger cheese inside the hat band, with predictable results. She wrote, “My Dad didn’t think I was very funny, tho, when I tried the same trick in the pocket of a leather jacket belonging to a friend, thereby ruining the coat. I never could figure out a way… to equal or emulate his Halloween feat back in Nebraska boyhood when he and his friends put a cow astride the church roof. Even he didn’t remember how they got it there – but it was a community effort to get it down.”

She also recalled the story of a widowed friend of her parents who coquettishly said to Dean, “Oh, Dean, no one loves me and my hands are so cold. Will you hold them?” He retorted, “God loves you and sit on your hands.”

Mom was very close to her mother, who she described as loving, caring and shy. Madeline was embarrassed by her lack of a college education, to which we were told Dean would reply, “You have an educated heart.”

We have few insights into life at their home at 1504 N. 17th Street. We know Eileen was fond of their Chinese cook, Fong Wing, who disappeared during periodic “tong wars” between the two competing societies in Boise.

Dean was hardworking, even a workaholic. Mom wrote, “It was his habit, as long as I can remember, to go back to the office after dinner, work until midnight or so – and then drive out across the desert, to ‘blow the cobwebs out of his brain’ as he put it.”

At his mother’s insistence, Dean had signed a temperance pledge so Dean and Madeline’s home was alcohol free. Every family has its “oft-told-tales” and Mom often recalled one about an especially hot evening when her father said, “You know, Madeline, I think I’d like to have a drink.” After conferring, he set about preparing a Tom Collins and brought one out to Madeline, who was sitting on the porch. She declared, “I believe this is the best Tom Collins I’ve ever tasted.” After a moment, Dean exclaimed, “Oh my god, I forgot to add the gin.”


Age 7

Age 7

In her childhood pictures in the 20s, Eileen’s dark brown brown hair was cut in a chin-length page boy that complemented her strong chin, and high and prominent cheekbones. She had an outdoorsy look about her, with toned arms and legs, and coloring associated with the “Black Irish” (leading one family friend to inquire if there might have been a little racial mixing in generations past). Her brown eyes sparkled and her generous lips framed a bright smile. Even in the pictures of her as a teenager in the 30s, when the style was for girls to look demure, her face still conveyed a sense of individualism, determination and intelligence.

Mom rides on the shoulders of a pal

Mom rides on the shoulders of a pal

Either because of her father’s model or her own innate competitiveness, Mom was a Tomboy. It wasn’t that the boys on the street wanted to play with her; it was just that she was the only one who had footballs and other sports equipment. Because she hunted with her father nearly every weekend (until high school when she said she found dances and dates too exciting to miss), he taught her to drive when she was 11.

Eileen’s photo album shows her out and about in her elementary days, in her sailor-style uniform at Girl Reserve Camp, rowing a canoe, on a class bird-hunting trip, climbing a tree. Several friendships formed in childhood stayed with her for life, especially Barb Kidder Ringrose, Betty Ash Hearne and Raine (Lorraine) Moats. Many of the pictures display nicknames: Mugs for Barb (Eileen was Mug-Wug), “Prunes” for Eugene Stokes. They learned to play bridge and took ballroom dancing lessons together. Especially important to her from childhood on was her relationship with her cousins Harriet and John Driscoll. (John died in a training mission during WWII, a loss that Eileen always carried with her.)

Even in her youth, Eileen wasn’t one to back down from a fight. In 1999, Raine wrote to share this memory after their grade school, Lowell, beat Park School, which had a reputation for being tough: “One of those girls kept coming up behind me and hitting me on the back of the head. I was the timid one and so tried to ignore it. This apparently got the best of Eileen because she ran back and started hitting and fighting this girl, maybe because she was hurting and annoying her friend. She really tore into her.”

By the age of 14, Eileen’s pictures show her “cutting up” with groups of friends, a growing circle of boys and girls. The girls got together and formed their own mock sorority, Eta Beta Pie.

Eileen’s social circle expanded in high school. Based on pictures, boys began to appeal to her beyond their utility for sports and horseplay. In the picture below, she coquettishly styles herself for the camera, perhaps a precursor to her turn as a shoe model for the prestigious I. Magnin department store during college. She spoke later of a romantic interest in Stanton Stringfellow, with whom she was featured in the Flora Dora follies. Stanton set a Robert Herrick poem to music for her with the lyrics, “I dare not ask a kiss/I dare not beg a smile/Lest having that, or this/I might grow proud the while. No, no, the utmost share/Of my desire shall be/Only to kiss the air/That lately kissed thee.”


Leaving for college, 1935

Leaving for college, 1935

After Eileen graduated, she initially attended Mills College in California, an all-women’s college. She participated in the choir, and eventually transferred to University of Washington where she majored in music (focused on vocal performance) and was an active member of Gamma Phi Beta.

In the spring of 1939, Eileen and Hank were both enrolled in “the grand old man” Dr. Padelford’s course on Browning. Every couple has a how-they-met story, and Henry would usually tell it. He would set the stage by explaining that he did not attend class the first few days, having a free pass – thanks to a fraternity brother – to taste the wares at the Rainier Brewery. But the third day of class, he was there, albeit disheveled and worse for wear. As class began, most of the seats were filled, but one remained open next to him. “Then this vision entered the room,” he would say, “dressed to the nines.” Eileen took one look around the room, saw the chair next to Hank, and promptly took another seat in the back corner. “She came into class that first day on Brook Fink’s arm,” he would say, “but after two weeks, she left on mine.”

Their courtship wasn’t entirely smooth sailing. A houseguest at the Gamma Phi house turned out to be from Yakima, so Eileen ask her if she knew Hank. “Oh, yes,” the visitor replied, going on to note that he was the boy who had his pin on a girl back home. When Henry arrived to collect Eileen for their date, he said he knew something was wrong the minute he set eyes on her. She gave him $5 for train fare and told him not to come back unless he had his pin.

After that, they were an item. Both graduated in 1939. Eileen once expressed to her father an interest in becoming an attorney, but he rebuffed the idea, saying there would be no “female barristers” in the family. After graduating, both lived in Seattle, Eileen in an apartment where Henry spent a great deal of time. He entered law school, since the family expected him to become the family lawyer, while Eileen took clerical courses. By late 1940, Henry knew that the law was not for him, and he became increasingly convinced that the U.S. would soon be in the war that was tearing apart Europe.


In love, 1940

In love, 1940

Henry enlisted in the 5th Reserve Officer’s Commissioning program of the Marine Corps in January 1941. From there, Eileen and Henry’s stories diverged. Eileen said that Henry wrote her in September or October of 1941 and asked her to join him; Henry held that he sent no such offer. After Pearl Harbor, however, Eileen immediately took a train east and the two married on December 26, 1941.

Next: the war years

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My brother Dean took Dad home


Of my three brothers, Dean is closest in age to me, just three years older. As he explained in his remarks at yesterday’s memorial, he and I knew the kinder, gentler version of Dad. Dad used to say that he and Mom raised Scott and Bruce, but he let us raise ourselves. I’m not sure that’s quite true, but he did perhaps trust the process more than he did when he was first a father. Here are Dean’s remarks:

“I would like to thank you all for coming today to help us remember and celebrate the life of my father, Henry Snively Campbell. I know he would be and, I like to think, is very pleased to see all of your familiar and beloved faces. I imagine his broad smile, and the warm greeting he would extend to all of you. On his behalf, I welcome you.

Today each of my siblings and I are sharing a few fragments of our memories of and love for our father. In some respects, my sister and I experienced a different father figure than did our two older brothers, so different in age were Betsy and I than they were.  Scott and Bruce knew the fiery, hard-charging, career-oriented Marine officer, a decorated WWII veteran who aspired to the Commandant’s mansion in Washington D.C., whereas Betsy and I were raised by a less rigid and more compassionate father. I believe that two events led him to re-balance his life outlook: the loss of his 4 year old daughter Midgie to leukemia in 1953; and his heart attack in 1962 that led to his premature retirement from the Marine Corps. I think these events made him re-consider what was most important to him in life; and it’s clear he decided it was his family.

My first memory of my father dates to the latter part of his Marine Corps service, during his post as Executive Officer at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC. I was about 4 or 5 years old at the time. Each Friday during the summer, an Evening Parade is held on the grounds within the barracks; the Exec is the parade commander, the conductor, if you will. In my memory of those parades, I see a marine platoon in spotless dress uniform, flawlessly conducting their silent drill with M-1 rifles, fixed bayonets gleaming in the twilight. The President’s Own Marine Band plays John Phillip Sousa. My father stands at the center, calling for the precise maneuvers in his full-throated, commanding voice.  You can imagine the impression that made on a 5 year old boy. He seemed about ten feet tall to me back then.

As I grew older, I naturally came to know him differently and more realistically, but the legacy of his Marine career was still much in evidence. He carried himself with an unmistakable grace and military bearing. He dressed smartly, and he spoke with authority, confidence, and courtesy. He modeled, more than he taught, the values and behaviors expected of a Marine, an officer, and a gentleman: respect; integrity; honor; courage; and commitment. I realize now more than I did during my childhood and adolescence that I tried to emulate him.  It was in this way that he taught me how I might become a man, poor student though I was.

Some of my most enduring adult memories of my father are of the times we spent together in his native eastern Washington, hunting chukar partridge in the hills high above the Columbia River near Bridgeport. The images are clear to me, as though they happened yesterday. This is my memory: on crisp fall mornings while it is still dark, we drive under bright stars from the river to the top of plateau, and out across the wheat stubble fields to our destination. We strike out before sunrise into the arid grass- and sage-covered land adjoining the cultivated fields. At the very edge of the Columbia gorge, we walk in the mist of early morning fog as it is driven off by the light breeze coming from the plateau. We move in silence, the only sounds coming from the snuffling dog working in front of us, and the crunching of the frosted grasses beneath our boots. The pungent smell of sage hangs in the cool morning air.  As the sun rises behind us in the eastern sky, we pause to stand at the precipice, looking out over the majestic expanse of the Columbia River gorge that spreads before us.  The hills across the river, many miles away, turn from dark to purple to tan as the sun climbs from the horizon. It’s an awe-inspiring sight that makes one feel humble and quite insignificant. I will always carry the memory of these mornings we spent together; and for me, he will live on within them.

I was truly fortunate to have been with my father in his final hours. The night before his passing, he was too weak to come to the table for dinner, even in his wheel chair – so Betsy and I brought our dinner into his room. We set up a card table in front of his recliner, squeezed in next to him, and had a quiet time together. In retrospect, he was clearly starting to fade, although Betsy and I did not realize at the time how close he was to the end.  He was very sleepy during dinner, and seemed to be in a waking dream state: still connected to the physical world around him, but clearly seeing and responding to other things as well.  As we sat together, he looked at me with half-closed eyes and asked, “Dean, will you drive?”. This caught me a bit off-guard, but I responded that of course I would. I wish now that I had had the wits to ask him where he wanted to go, but I did not. Afterwards, my first thought was that in his mind he thought we were sitting in our camper on one of our hunting trips, and that he wanted me to drive because he was too tired to carry on. What I’ve now come to believe is something else. In the few days preceding his passing, he was often restless and wakeful during the night, trying to get out of bed, even though he had become too weak and short of breath to walk on his own. Our hospice nurse told Betsy and me that such restlessness is fairly common, and offered the belief that perhaps those close to death know they have somewhere they need to go, and are so determined to get there they will get up out of bed and walk right out the front door if you aren’t watching over them. Today when I look back on my father’s words, I think he knew it was time for him to leave, and that he wanted me to drive him there. I think he was asking me to take him home.”

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Henry Campbell and Madeline, 1950

Dad with little Midge, 1950

Today is the day after the day after Dad died. And it feels like a week ago. I slept, really slept, in a spare bedroom at my in-laws, a half mile away. I slept without listening for trouble in the night, and without awakening to catalogue the things that grow disproportionately in importance in my unconscious brain.

Everywhere I went today, the people in my life who had come to know my Dad cried when I told them he had died. Our family internist, Dr. Flaningam, called after work hours to extend his condolences and his compliments for the quality of life we helped Dad to achieve in the seven years since he moved to California.

We removed the medical equipment that helped keep Dad comfortable. As helpful as these things were — the commode, the hospital bed, the oxygen compressor, the nasal cannula, the air bed — I hated them. They represent the rudeness of old age and the torture of dying. I banished them to the garage and tossed out the bedding that served my Dad on his last day. I am still shaking my fist at death for taking Dad even though I know he wanted to be released and I wanted that for him.

Knowing that they were leaving tomorrow, my brothers began to sort through Dad’s things — his hats, gloves, socks, shirts, fishing gear, knives.  I know it made sense for them to choose things they would like now while they are together; Dad, if anything, was pragmatic. He had “good gear” and he would want to see it used. Irrationally, I just wasn’t quite ready for the divvying.

During the day, we reviewed a draft press release that I wrote describing Dad’s accomplishments in the Marine Corps. We picked over this detail and that, but in the end came up with an accurate history that we all could agree to. After we approved it, I sent it to a few newspaper editors.

As dinner approached, I was feeling pretty low. For the first time, I faced across the dinner table and Dad wasn’t there. Bruce and Dean were in his customary spot, the “defensible position” on the far side of the table. I started to cry.

Over dinner, we talked about Dad. The news release focused on the accomplishments that news media might find noteworthy, but what did we really think was the story of Dad’s life?

Bruce said that he felt he got to know Dad better after Mom passed away. “He became my hero,” Bruce said, not only for what he did in the war but for the extremely difficult things that happened to him. “I got to know who he was,” he said.

As we talked more, we concurred that Dad became more loving, gentle and non-judgmental as he aged. Scott said, “When I did something stupid, Dad would let you talk and help you lay out your alternatives. He’d let you pick your course of action, but once you did, he’d back you up.”

We all acknowledged that Dad changed after leaving the Marine Corps. As Dean put it, “Dad was incredibly career focused. He was so focused on achieving the next milestone that he didn’t have time to smell the roses… Once Dad set aside his ambitions, he reassessed what was important.”

We all know what was important to Dad in these last decades of his life. Mom was important…and we were important.

We haven’t written his obituary yet, but we are going to try to write about who he is, not what he did. I capitalized and underlined these two phrases:




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With Love, to the Last Breath


At 6 p.m. tonight, Dad took his last breath as my brother Dean told him that he loved him, and as I read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, one of Dad’s favorites. To understand why my Dad loved that particular sonnet so much, you have to appreciate how he “fought for his pants” every day of day of his wonderful marriage to my mother. Not long before he died, his eyebrows lifted up, the way they would when he saw someone who delighted him, and his lips moved as if he were speaking to them.

Dad, this is for you and Mom, thanks to the Bard:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare.

Their love was rare, and they are together again. But, dear Dad, I will miss you.


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For a Brave Surgeon: Thank You, Dr. Kari Vitikainen!

Credit: University of Southern California

Today, I am mailing this letter to the surgeon who decided to perform my Dad’s third and final coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery in 1999:

Dear Dr. Vitikainen,

I hope you don’t mind me tracking you down through Bruce Wheeler, M.D., in Tacoma. I’m fairly sure you won’t remember me, but I wanted to track you down to thank you for the nearly 14 years my father, Henry Campbell, has enjoyed since you performed what we all knew was a high risk CABG surgery in April 1999.

I am sure that surgery as a specialty carries a fair amount of gratification. But I hope this letter will give you just one more chance to remember what a difference your skills made.

In my Dad’s case, you saw an 82-year-old man struggling with extreme angina who was in the hospital following a small heart attack. He had his first MI in 1962 and had already had two prior CABG surgeries. We all felt that nothing more could be done. But… his wife, my mother, was home with very late stage lung cancer. He hoped to be able to return home so that he could be with her in her final days.

You were also the surgeon who was able to repair the tear in my mother’s very friable lung in February. That repair made it possible for her to go home with hospice, which she did in late February. I remember fighting with the physician who was in charge of her care initially; he told me it would be “kinder for all parties if she just winked out in the hospital.” We felt differently. She was afraid in the hospital and we knew she would want to die in the comfort and security of her own home.

I remember sitting with Dad in the hospital, hooked up to a drip of nitroglycerin that was as strong of a concentration as possible. You came in and told him you thought it might be possible to consider surgery – that his heart function was quite strong. If he had enough veinous material that would work, and other indications turned out to be favorable, just maybe a CABG was possible. You explained that the surgery would be high risk. “What do you mean by high risk?” my father asked. You said that he had at least a 25% chance of dying due to complications from the surgery.

From my father’s perspective, he had a 100% chance of dying soon without it, and would not get to be there for my mother. He opted for the surgery.

We know that the surgery was difficult. It took five hours to open. When Dad was recovering, you explained to us that this surgery was unlikely to last as long as the others given the amount of blockages and damage to the heart that could not be repaired. You estimated five years.

My Dad is now in hospice, here at my home, almost 14 years later. He has had some great years in between.

Perhaps most importantly, he was holding my mother’s hand at the moment her heart stopped, the day after Mother’s Day, May 10, 1999.

In those initial years after Mom’s death, he lived in the family home in University Place. He continued to hunt with his friend, Bob. Eventually he felt he should no longer drive and he moved to Seattle near my brother, Dean. He had a major stroke in 2003 or 2004 from which the doctors at UW expected he would not recover the ability to walk. He eventually walked unassisted without dragging his left foot, and had a complete recovery. (In later years, he used a walker for balance, but you still could rarely tell he had any effect from that stroke.)

I moved Dad here in 2006 when he was becoming more isolated and it became more difficult for him to walk alone in the Seattle wet. I retired to have more time to spend with him in what we expected would be a short time ahead of him. Until this summer, we walked together at least five days a week. He had another small stroke while living here – this one affected his speech temporarily but the effects disappeared within days.

If you’re keeping score, that’s one major heart attack (1962) and two small ones, three CABG surgeries, one major stroke and two small ones.

We’ve had a lot of great times together. He’s continued to entertain us all with vast amounts of memorized poetry. He’s seen the family grow. Until 2010 we took him on family fishing vacations. He and I have traveled to the Monterey Aquarium for his birthday, and last summer, to Seattle for a family reunion. Although he had an assisted living apartment the past few years, he has spent about three-quarters of his time living at my house. And we’ve had many a pre-dinner glass of wine and convivial gathering.

He is very much “himself” although he is now quite weak and struggling with late stage congestive heart failure, and in hospice here with me. He expresses gratitude constantly for me, and for the team of people who help him. He continues to be a gracious, humble, loving man.

In 1999, when you performed that last CABG, it was outside the norm to consider surgery on an 82 year old man with a long history of heart disease. I just want you to know: that was a great decision.

We’re down to the hard part – the failing and the letting go, and it isn’t easy. But he is safe, and loved, and cared for.

As I review the times we’ve had with Dad, I could not help but think of what made it all possible: your initial decision. I just wanted to say THANK YOU!


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