- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2004

At the final request of Elizabeth Pfohl Campbell, the white marble gravestone in God’s Acre Cemetery of the Home Moravian Church in Salem, N.C., will read: “His servants will serve Him.” And serve Him well Mrs. Campbell did until she closed her eyes for the last time on Jan. 9 at the age of 101.

In fact, Mrs. Campbell, most recognized for her role as the founder and leader of public broadcasting’s premier station, WETA (Channel 26) in Arlington, was involved in every major social movement of the 20th century. And she was a faith-filled woman every step of the way, never missing a day without talking a walk, listening to classical music and hymns, and reading from the Moravian “Daily Text.”

“Mrs. Campbell was a part of most major movements of every decade of the 20th century, from civil rights, women’s gender issues, education, communication and faith-based giving,” said Judith Mueller, president emeritus of the Women’s Center and president and chief executive officer of the Advisory Network.

“She had the capacity to know when to initiate change,” Ms. Mueller said. “Her life expressed a devotion to and a commitment on a politic basis congruent with her spiritual self.”

Suffice to say that Mrs. Campbell’s condensed obituary filled two pages of the printed booklets passed out during her funeral last Tuesday at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Arlington. By the way, she founded the church with her husband, Edmund Douglas Campbell.

Mrs. Campbell once told me: “Education is the greatest gift you can give anybody.” Besides a public-broadcasting television station and a church, she also founded a day care center and a junior choir, co-founded Arlingtonians for a Better County, was the dean of two women’s colleges, taught Latin at the Washington Cathedral School with her children in tow and was awarded numerous doctorate degrees and community honors.

“To her, everything, even television, was an opportunity for education and for building a community of mutually concerned citizens,” said her son, the Rev. Benjamin P. Campbell of Richmond.

Unmistakably, his mother “thought everyone was important.”

Esther Dadson, who was Mrs. Campbell’s home companion and caretaker for seven years, said Mrs. Campbell encouraged her to write a cookbook. “She liked everybody, big girl or little girl, white or black. I wasn’t just a worker, I was a friend, and she really loved me,” she said.

One of the most memorable days of my two-decade journalism career was spent interviewing the engaging and endearing Campbells in their Arlington home in May 1995 in connection with WETA’s 25th anniversary. They were both well into their 90s but still spry, of sound mind and showing a sweet love for one another.

Before I departed long after their daily afternoon tea ritual, they made me feel more like a member of the family than a tolerated intruder. Mr. Campbell — tall, thin and a bit of a flirt — presented me with a copy of his self-published memoirs.

Subsequently, each time I greeted the ever-gracious Mrs. Campbell, she spoke to me as she did many of the surrogate daughters she has mentored through the years.

Economist Nancy Lloyd, whom Mrs. Campbell encouraged to join the WETA board, said, “She was a great role model, and she encouraged me to do things I’d never thought of.”

I’ll never forget how Mrs. Campbell, like my grandmother, was not pleased with the women’s fashion trend toward more casual attire in work and worship places.

I often reminded her of words that I took to heart when she said: “My mother taught me that when you go out, you don’t dress for yourself, you dress for other people.”

Her daughter, Virginia, said Mrs. Campbell would be pleased that “everybody dressed so nice” for the services held last week.

It is fitting to write a letter of appreciation to this lovely lady, to whom I feel deeply indebted, as the nation celebrates the life and legacy of Martin Luther King by participating in community-service projects.

The Campbells, once called “red-eyed liberals,” had a huge impact on American history. Elizabeth as a educator and Ed as a lawyer were instrumental in successfully fighting the “massive resistance” movement in the 1950s when Virginia leaders closed public schools rather than integrate them.

Mr. Campbell, a sixth-generation Virginian with all the rights and responsibilities that accompany that pedigree, argued against massive resistance in federal court “in order to be true to myself.”

Mrs. Campbell, an educator who once presided over Mary Baldwin College (which Mr. Campbell’s grandparents founded), was the first woman elected to the Arlington County School Board, but she was ousted after the Virginia General Assembly took away the rights of counties to elect board members. Their action came after the Arlington board, under her leadership, voted to allow desegregation. In 1959, the first black students entered Strafford Junior High School.

“Intolerance is the biggest of vices,” Mr. Campbell said.

“You have to constantly struggle against it,” Mrs. Campbell added.

I went to pay my final respects to this pioneering woman who I viewed as a role model for women of my generation. This bright, bold and loving lady was a constant star at most meetings, programs and social events focused on Washington-area women.

For those who were touched greatly and gently by Mrs. Campbell, she not only was considered to be “like everybody’s grandmother,” she set the standard for excellence, community commitment and steadfast spirituality. She was dignity and honor personified.

If only more of us would follow in this Grande Dame’s footsteps to serve so well.

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