Brotherly Tribute to a Free Spirit by Drew Campbell

Greensboro Day School Alumni Newsletter

Charles Campbell, “Chuck” to most of the Day School family, came to Greensboro with our family in 1973, entering the 8th grade at GDS. Over the years, I watched him become a formidable force at the school, excelling both in and out of the classroom: captain of the soccer team, editor of an innovative yearbook, president of his class, National Honor Society scholar.

But more than just racking up a list of college application credits, Chuck brought a spirit of creative dedication to his work and to the school. Whether it was building railroad tie steps from the parking lot, laying out a spread of pages in the yearbook, or extending a hand to the opponent whose shorts he had just burned on the playing field, Chuck constantly strove to improve the world.

When he left for college at the University of Colorado, many people saw Chuck (now “Charles”) heading into architecture, a field that seemed to make use of his broad skills in design, construction, and knowledge of human nature. For several years, at the Universities of Colorado and Oregon, he pursued this area, but seemed to have difficulty finding satisfaction in that environment. He excelled at his work, but his vision extended deeper than most.

It was not until 1987, when he was twenty-seven, that Charles finally let his artistic vision loose. His poetry flowed and he began drawing and sculpting in earnest. When we came to his house after his death, the walls were covered with sculptures in wood and stone, and his drawers were filled with writing.

Throughout the years, Charles was a dedicated outdoorsman and an advocate for the preservation of the wilderness. During his time in Boulder, vandals spray-painted graffiti on the beautiful “Flatiron” cliffs that rise behind the town. Charles organized an expedition of climbers that scaled the cliffs and repainted them, effectively masking the damage.

He was at home on a mountain like nowhere else. He climbed in the Blue Ridge, the Rockies, the Grand Tetons, the Canadian Rockies, and finally, in 1987, to 21,000 feet in the Andes Mountains of Peru.


He once told me, “If I should die, I want my ashes scattered off the top of Bugaboo Spire in British Columbia.” This August, my brother Jim and I will climb that peak and return his body to the mountains.


Charles’s most fervent desire was for an end to the nuclear era. Not satisfied with “talking to the mailbox,” Charles joined a massive non-violent protest at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. In the middle of the night, in the pouring rain, his “team” slipped onto the base itself, past listening trucks and soldiers dressed for riot duty. In the morning, they walked towards the front gate where the military police faced thousands of other protesters. Slipping up behind the soldiers, they formed a second line of protest, effectively “flanking” (and embarrassing) the military personnel. They were summarily arrested, and spent up to a week in prison.

The next year, he camped out on a missile range in Arizona, building a sign that said “Test Peace” in letters ten feet high. People questioned such tactics, especially since the missiles were fired anyway. “What good does it do to get yourself arrested? That kind of protest is outdated,” they would say. To which Charles, never confrontational, always direct, would say, “Fine. What are YOU doing about it?” How many of us have an answer to that question?

My brother fought some awesome dragons in his life: a crippling illness, the break-up of a close-knit family, the struggle of maintaining compassion amidst an increasingly impersonal and violent society; but one thing I never saw him do was give up. I thought about that as I walked through the rhododendron garden where we held his memorial service. The breeze through the trees was humming a long mournful note, like a faraway piper playing “Auld Lang Syne” for a lost Scottish soul. At that moment, I felt his life enter mine, with a new sense of resolve to live life peacefully and well. For that, I am deeply grateful to my brother, and I wish him good rest.