- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Great shock gripped this capital city last week when news flashed on the grapevine that one of its adopted sons, Barry Keith Campbell, was found dead in his home.

The 55-year-old savvy politico and public servant the picture of health with his svelte physique immaculately dressed died of an aneurysm June 9.

A "Who's Who" of D.C. politics donned their finest and filled Metropolitan AME Church over the weekend to pay a poignant tribute to their fallen friend, a stalwart in the freedom fight who embodied all that is quintessentially homestyle "D.C." The humorous memories offered from family, the famous and folks "from every station of life" who were touched by this serious-looking but fun-loving man acted as a salve for many saddened souls.

It took a while, but I grew to greatly appreciate Barry Keith Campbell, whom I came to know during his tenure as chief of staff during the tumultuous fourth and final term of Mayor Marion S. Barry. In fact, during our last conversation, I told this tall, dapper man whom I once called not a very nice name to his face that "you're going to make me love you." Barry, an erudite engineer who relished his role as "an angry black man," had just delivered another stirring but searing soliloquy at a Leadership Washington board meeting.

He had commandeered yet another opportunity to wrap the struggle for freedom and justice and the hypocrisy surrounding the lack of democracy for D.C. residents into a succinct commentary on community consciousness and commitment. It was similar to an emotional and eloquent statement he made to the same group after the September 11 attacks.

"Barry was always willing, ready and able to say what other people in the room were feeling," Mayor Anthony A. Williams said.

Mr. Campbell became an unofficial adviser to the mayor, although the two had a testy relationship when Mr. Williams was the chief financial officer during the D.C. financial control board's "coup," as Mayor Barry called it.

Everyone knew how much Barry enjoyed a fiery debate, lying in wait for folks who did not use a correct or precise word. Mr. Barry quipped at the service, Barry's "probably arguing with Jesus Christ right now about something." Even Ben Johnson, special assistant to President Clinton, joked of Barry's "sartorial elegance." But everyone also knew, as Mr. Williams noted, that Barry was dead serious about one thing how much he loved this city and the people in it. Often he gave you a hard stare over the top of those wire-rimmed glasses and launched into a tirade about D.C. voting rights or the lack of a reciprocal tax on suburban commuters.

It's a shame, but those who did not know Barry may never understand the great chasm his passing leaves in efforts to obtain true home rule. Even at the former mayor's request, Mr. Campbell asked not to be assigned to lead the city's Transportation Department "after the control board's coup," because he so disagreed with the very existence of the congressionally mandated body.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton noted that he was "an indispensable man in D.C. government" who was "a proud, fearless black man with high standards for himself and for this city."

Barry, "a man for all seasons who was a champion for the District," as his memorial program read, adopted Washington as his home while a student at Howard University during the activist heyday of the late 1960s and early '70s. He earned an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and a graduate degree in structural engineering, and assisted in the development of the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in 1972. There, his Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers dubbed him "Stein," short for Frankenstein. (I thought it was short for Einstein.)

While at the city's now-defunct General Services Department, Mr. Campbell started his political career campaigning for Arrington Dixon who spoke of Barry's "people skills" during his bid for D.C. Council in 1974 and chairman in 1978.

He lost his own bid for a Ward 4 council seat to Charlene Drew Jarvis in 1979, but became chairman of the Ward 4 Democrats thereafter. He also worked for Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, whose cousin, Tracey Shepherd, he married and later divorced. A daughter born of that union, Kimani, survives him.

Although he eventually went to work for private ventures, several folks noted how often Barry talked about how much he missed working for D.C. residents.

But it was to Mr. Barry that Mr. Campbell's loyalty became legendary. "He was the one person I could tell anything and know that he wouldn't gossip about it," the former mayor said.

No kidding. Those of us in the press came to know Barry as "Mr. No-Comment." He was highly critical of what he considered unfair media coverage of his boss and of the District. He also bristled at the lack of scrutiny surrounding the Williams administration. The last time I was with Barry, we were all cozied up in a corner in the lounge of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel after the Leadership Washington awards dinner, where he commenced to doing his favorite thing, his girlfriend Jennipher Snowden at his side.

Talking stuff and telling jokes, he'd ordered several rounds of expensive champagne not his usual Roederer Cristal and rallied everyone as he graciously toasted Patricia Matthews for taking the time to teach him how to survive in D.C. government.

Wrapping up a three-hour memorial service, Crystal A. Kuykendall, an adopted "cousin," charged "all those who loved Barry's moxie and mirth [to] let some of Barry live in you" by "striving for excellence and lifting up a struggling sister or brother."

As columnist and commentator Julianne Malveaux noted, "Barry was about love." Indeed, he lived well and he loved deeply and, like so many others, I will miss him madly.


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