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Virginia Paris Campbell ’34

Long considered the First Lady of Lake Oswego, Virginia was a tireless champion for its arts organizations and civic institutions for more than six decades. One of the original organizers of the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts, she was a founding member of the Friends of the Lake Oswego Public Library and helped craft policies that gave direction to the Lakewood Center for the Arts.

“Virginia never hesitated to speak up and offer support and leadership for the arts, civic improvements, and education,” said Andrew Edwards, Lakewood’s executive director. “She was an incredible woman of intellect, passion, and strength.”

Virginia’s family moved to Portland from Indiana six weeks after she was born. When it came time for college, she began studying architecture at the University of Oregon. Her mother became ill, and Virginia moved home and spent a year apprenticing with the architectural firm of Johnson, Wallwork and Johnston, and then studied for a year at the University of Washington. She loved architecture, but in the throes of the Great Depression when few were building, it appeared to be a dead-end profession. Transferring to Reed, she changed her major to literature, writing her thesis, The Function of Restoration Comedy 1660–1700, with Prof. Barry Cerf [English 1921–48].

In abnormal and genetic psychology class she met her future husband, Colin Herald Campbell ’33. “It was a good place to meet,” she later observed. “There’s never any problem talking about any subject after you’ve been through that kind of course.” The romance blossomed during shared rides to school in the rumble seat of the Pontiac roadster owned by Jack Lowe ’33. At one Reed dance, Herald filled all the lines in Virginia’s dance program (it was customary for young men to reserve specific dances) with a 17-word declaration: “Queer, isn’t it, that it should take me seventeen lines to tell you that I love you?” They married in 1935.

“I suppose I may have expected to teach or something after I graduated,” she said, “but I married instead. It wasn’t taken for granted that you were going to have a profession, something that you would do other than be a wife and mother. I certainly never did anything career-wise, but I don’t feel I’ve been deprived, either. It wasn’t so easy. You had to buy your food and cook it. It wasn’t prepared in a package that you could just stick in the microwave. You sewed your clothes and did a lot more things in the house. It was a job.”

Virginia once described herself as a closet poet, a frustrated architecture lover, a past chorister, an origami hobbyist, and a confirmed and perennial volunteer. She sang with her husband in the Portland Symphonic Choir and taught puppetry and origami to local youths, but she would be defined by her roles as the consummate community activist and volunteer.

In 1951, the Campbells moved to Lake Oswego with their three daughters and became instrumental in the development of the city’s land-use regulations and natural resource planning. Herald served as mayor from 1979 to 1985. Virginia was an integral part of a study of metropolitan government that led to the formation of the regional governmental body Metro. When the former Lakewood School was acquired in 1979 and repurposed as a community arts center, she helped craft the mission for the Lakewood Center for the Arts. From 1963 to 1984 she served as general chairman of the Annual Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts, later became special exhibits chairman, and was finally elected honorary director of the center. Virginia was also the “go-to person” for Lake Oswego at the League of Women Voters Clackamas County, and explained, “Although I was not a suffragette, I just think women should be encouraged to raise their voices.”

The couple played key roles in the Oswego Heritage Council, the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center, the Lake Oswego Rotary Club, and Lake Grove Presbyterian Church. In 1983, they were the first couple to win the Community Leader of the Year award, given by the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce. At that time, the Lake Oswego Review observed, “The Campbells have given considerable time and effort to the community and done so with class, humor and grace.” The Lifetime Achievement Award was later conferred on them, and in 1998 the Campbells were recognized for their decades of community involvement when the town named a one-acre native plant garden on Iron Mountain the Campbell Native Garden.

When glaucoma debilitated her vision, Virginia used an iPad to read, compose poetry, and communicate because it allowed her to enlarge the type. A YouTube video of her using the device when she was 100 years old has been watched more than 600,000 times. “Virginia was truly remarkable,” said Bill Baars, director of the Lake Oswego Public Library. “She was selfless and kept herself focused on what was best for the community now—and into the future.”

Herald died in 2009 at the age of 98. Her three daughters, Susanna Campbell-Kuo, Corrina Campbell-Sack, and Virginia Campbell-Adelsheim survive Virginia.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2016

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