I called the 90-year-old state golf icon and World Golf Hall of Famer on June 21, the final day of the West Virginia Open at Parkersburg Country Club. Campbell was staying at his country home in Lewisburg at the time, and earlier just that week had finally decided to retire after 65 years of selling insurance with John Hancock Life.
Campbell, who died on Aug. 30, was dealing with a nerve condition called neuropathy, which affected his legs and caused, as he said to me that day, "bad balance . . . and frequent falls. I've had a number of them, but luckily I'm hard-headed, too.''
I was writing a story that day on David Bradshaw of Bakerton, who was poised to win his seventh State Open title in 10 years. Bradshaw's dominance put him ahead of everyone else in the State Open history books except for one Sam Snead - the PGA and Greenbrier resort legend and a close friend of Campbell's. Snead captured 17 West Virginia Open crowns in his illustrious career.
Anyway, I tried to get Campbell to say something about what Snead might think of some upstart like Bradshaw chasing down his records (albeit still a long distance away). Tried posing the question three different times, in fact, in three different ways, but Campbell never really quite took the bait and answered (quite intentionally, I've come to believe).
But I did get to hear him wax eloquent on a number of topics in our 20-minute conversation, and his memory remained tack-sharp on events that happened well over a half-century ago, like Snead's near-misses in the 1937 and 1939 U.S. Opens, and Campbell's unexpected victory over Snead in the 1953 State Open, also at Parkersburg Country Club.
It was like taking a stroll back in time. One of few tales he told that I didn't use for my stories that day was his recounting of an embarrassing moment in 2011 at the Greenbrier Classic, when Greenbrier owner Jim Justice looked to spice up the opening of his PGA event.
Moments after a band played the national anthem at the No. 1 tee, and moments before the opening round began, Campbell and Justice hit ceremonial first tee shots. Seconds after they struck their shots, two somewhat-hidden cannons fired from just beyond the tee box. Few at the scene expected it, and nobody was prepared for the noise, especially Campbell.
"Mr. Justice and the committee nominated me to be first off the tee,'' Campbell said. "That's a polite request and I appreciated the compliment. It was a poor tee shot, but I got it out there.
"Meanwhile, they fired off a cannon. I didn't know about it. I thought I'd been shot myself. They've done that before in Scotland, that sort of ceremony, but I did not know about it. Since then, they've spared me and everybody else. I sit by the first tee and meet the guys as they go out to play. It's nice to do it.''
Unfortunately, the latter scene won't be seen anymore at the Greenbrier Classic.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.