Carroll Campbell was a great man who greatly influenced me and the state of South Carolina.
Note: The following remembrance of Carroll Campbell contains many personal references. Please understand that this is not an attempt to tie myself to The Great Man, but is meant to explore what Governor Campbell meant to me personally and to the state. –OPS
I found out about former Governor Carroll Campbell’s death last week while on a family trip to Orlando. My mother-in-law called to share the news so I wouldn’t have to learn it from my usual source for news when out of town: SC Hotline.
During the six-hour car ride back from central Florida, my wife Kristin kept Stephen (8), Elizabeth (5) and Margaret (2) well entertained with books, songs and games, so I had a lot of time to think about Carroll Campbell and the decade or so we were close.
I met Mr. Campbell in 1976 when one of the three people in my hometown of Greer who would admit to being Republicans invited me to attend a Campbell campaign barbecue at his farm near Fountain Inn. Vice-Presidential candidate Bob Dole was in town to raise funds for Campbell’s run for the S.C. Senate and push the Ford-Dole ticket. There were young volunteers everywhere at the barbecue, and I had to become one of them.
In 1978, the successful Senate campaign operation turned into an intense race for U.S. Congress. This time I had a new driver’s license, so I began to spend most of my free time at Campbell for Congress headquarters on Stone Avenue. I cross-referenced phone numbers to the voter file, erected countless 4’ x 8’ mini-boards, “bumper branded” in shopping center parking lots, asked voters to sign petitions supporting the Kemp-Roth tax cut plan and went door-to-door with the candidate. In the door-to-door effort, our usual plan was to enter a business as Campbell was leaving it. We would follow up immediately on the connection Campbell always made with people in the hardware store or drycleaners by asking to put up one of his orange campaign posters with the modified Campbell soup logo. More than once I received permission followed by the remark: “and I bet you’re his son!” I was embarrassed and flattered at the same time.
Two years later, I became Congressman Campbell’s youngest Washington intern, rooming in Washington on A Street with now 7th Circuit Solicitor Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg who was working for Strom Thurmond. Back in South Carolina in the fall, Campbell found cool things for me to do, like driving in Ronald Reagan’s motorcade when he made an appearance at the new Haywood Mall. I drove the ABC News camera crew with a Secret Service agent literally riding shotgun. The NBC News car was driven by my friend David Sudduth, who already had a knack for politics. He was elected to Greenville City Council last month.
South Carolina was a swing state of sorts in those years. Jimmy Carter had visited earlier at the home of now Republican Senator J. Verne Smith. The Greenville News ran a cartoon that morning showing Carter and Smith in the dining room of the Senator’s house with toilet paper strung at every corner of the room. The drawing showed a wide-eyed Smith expressing to Carter “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but “Carroll Campbell got in here last night.” Carter’s host lived two doors up the street from my parents, so Greer folk seeing the cartoon told me that if the house were indeed “t.p.’ed,” they knew whom Campbell would have had carry out the job.
Carroll Campbell took care of his young volunteer and made sure if I were present at any event sponsored by his campaign, he would see that I met the guest of honor. I met Ronald Reagan this way several times, as well as Bob Dole, Guy Vander Jagt, Jack Kemp and George Bush (41).
It was about this time that I was struggling with where to attend college. It was June and time was running out. Hearing that the 4th District Congressman would bring remarks at a Flag Day observance at Roper Mountain Science Center, I attended, hoping to have a few minutes with my mentor. Campbell and I jumped in his Buick, grabbed a Coke at a drive through window and talked for a half-hour or so. Unfortunately, when we returned to the Center to drop me at my car, we found the gates padlocked with my vehicle inside. Campbell, a driven man who didn’t like to waste a second, was clearly not pleased, but gladly drove me home to Greer on the back roads he knew so well. The result of the trip was more free advice. The suggestion Carroll Campbell gave me that day, which he jokingly made me swear that I would never divulge, can now can be revealed. Carroll Campbell, a man whose loyalty was strongly garnet and black, suggested I go to Clemson. For a Carolina man, that was hard advice to share, but there was a reason for it.
Our conversation that day revolved around a central issue: in selecting a college, how could I merge my interest in politics and political science with my calling and make a living at it? After hanging around Campbell for four years, I wanted to be involved in retail politics, but I also wanted to study political science. Complicating the issue was a deep-seated calling to some kind of Christian endeavor that I couldn’t put my finger on. Clemson and Furman were close, but USC was in the political city. Clemson was far enough away that I could get out of the house, but Furman might offer some good religion courses. (My how times have changed.)
Campbell knew exactly what to do. Professor Charles W. Dunn, founder and head of the Political Science Department at Clemson, was an outspoken Christian and author of numerous political science and Christian books (like The Future of the American Presidency and Upstream Christian in a Downstream World). If I were to study under Dunn, he would help me find the will of God and teach me political science. Dunn was my man, Campbell said. As for the political city, that should wait, he advised. There would be numerous opportunities for political involvement without going to Columbia for college. And oh, by the way law school or graduate school would be a good idea, too.
Several years later, I met with Campbell in his office in the Longworth House Office Building office on Capitol Hill. I hadn’t seen much of him lately and Nikki McNamee, his AA, suggested that I visit with him at the end of the legislative day while he worked through his “in” box. Out of nowhere in that casual conversation (as casual as they got with CAC), Campbell announced to me that he had been accused of having ice water running through his veins. He didn’t seem to want me to review the comment, and I glad of it. I wasn’t stupid enough to tell him that I could see how one might make that accusation! It was true that Carroll Campbell could be a tough customer. But to me, for a brief time in my late ‘teens and early twenties, Carroll Campbell was a friend and mentor.
When he became Governor, I worked briefly in his division of Economic Development and he called me to his office a couple times to work on special projects, but the time of our frequent contact had passed. Maybe God’s work in my life though Carroll Campbell and my usefulness to him was done. There is no doubt that his career advice, which has guided me even to this point, was a message from God. Ultimately, I moved to the political city, received two graduate degrees in political science from USC, and became involved in a dozen political campaigns and numerous research projects and legislative issues. In 2002, I became director of an organization dedicated to family, faith and public policy. I had finally come full circle from our conversation on Flag Day in 1981.
In one of his last public appearances, a tribute to him and his legacy, Carroll Campbell was asked to respond to the comments made about him that evening. Several of those in attendance told me that in his brief remarks he didn’t substantially review the accomplishments of his life, but called for a greater understanding of the importance of the family and for resistance to enemies of family life. He had also come full circle.
Dr. Oran Smith
Former President & CEO
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