A Life: William E. Campbell, 1927-2018; ‘He Was the Epitome of the Honest Man’

  • Bill and Irene Campbell wave goodbye to Davis & Campbell's Garage in Hartland, Vt., when it closed in 1992. It was a full-service station, complete with robust conversation and the “town coffee pot.” (Family photograph)

  • Bill Campbell with two of his grandchildren on his Hartland, Vt., property in the mid-1990s. (Family photograph)

  • Bill and Irene Campbell during a visit to the Grand Canyon in 2006. The Campbells were married for 68 years. (Family photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, June 03, 2018

Hartland — If Bill Campbell at Davis & Campbell’s Garage said your vehicle needed a new motor, it needed a new motor.

The same goes for any part on a car, truck or tractor that might have needed work between 1952 and 1992, when Campbell ran the garage in Hartland Three Corners.

“He was the epitome of the honest man. There were no questions asked,” said Hartland Town Clerk Clyde Jenne, who was a customer of the garage since he got his license in 1966. “He was just an all-around great guy that had the welfare of his total community at heart.”

Established customer Gordon Richardson, a longtime Hartland selectman and farmer, can attest to that.

Richardson remembers going into “the garage” when he was 12 with his father, who had an aging 1937 Pontiac that he took to Campbell for check-ups.

This time, it wouldn’t pass inspection, and Campbell explained why. Whatever the reason, Floyd Richardson understood.

“I just remember how very respectful my father was of Bill’s opinion,” Gordon Richardson said recently. “He was taking away his pride and joy, but he respected Bill and retired the car at that time.”

From that day on, Gordon Richardson had the utmost respect for Campbell and used him as his mechanic.

“He was a person of few words, but when he did say something you certainly would listen and pay attention,” Richardson said.

Campbell, a lifelong Upper Valley resident, dedicated hunter and “gardener extraordinaire,” died on Feb. 1, 2018, following a period of declining health. He was 90.

Campbell was born in Bridgewater in 1927 and attended schools in Woodstock and Windsor before turning to work fulltime on the family farm.

He took his farmhand skills to Billings Farm in Woodstock in the early 1940s, then went on to serve a stint in the U.S. Navy, making his way to Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Returning home, he met the love of his life, Irene Lasure, who stood by his side for just shy of 69 years. The two wed in 1949, not long after meeting at an ice cream shop in Hartland.

At the time, Campbell worked at Davis Brothers Garage in Windsor, a job he took after working at the Goodyear factory. By the time Campbell had turned 25, he and Lawrence Davis, a longtime friend, decided to start their own garage in what is now Mike’s Store and Deli.

Campbell and the other mechanics at the shop serviced all types of vehicles throughout the years, but they had an eye on General Motors, his son, Tom Campbell, said recently.

Regardless of the make and model though, “he could just listen to them and he could tell you what was wrong,” the younger Campbell said of his father.

“There wasn’t much he didn’t know about cars,” Irene Campbell added.

Bill Campbell was known to leave the shop on occasion and pick up an elderly person’s car so they didn’t have to drop it off for repairs, and he would stay open late for motorists with a mechanical problem.

In addition to being the spot where many people had their vehicles fixed, the garage was the place where many would gas up. It was a full-service station, complete with robust conversation and the “town coffee pot.”

It was a place where Campbell would allow people to have a gas slip, so if they couldn’t pay for gas that day, for example, they could make it good at the end of the month, Jenne recalled.

The regulars had their chairs inside, not far from where the vending and cigarette machines sat.

And the garage wasn’t only a place where the retirees stopped by to chitchat and have work done. It was a helpful pitstop for people who were passing through on Route 5.

Irene Campbell, who worked as a bookkeeper at the garage, recalled a day when a family from out of town with several children stopped in to use the bathroom and grab a snack.

They all got out and went inside — except for the young boy who was asleep in the back of the station wagon. He stayed in the car, but not for long.

When the boy went inside the garage, the family came out; His parents didn’t know he had woken and left the car, and they hit the road with out him.

This was well before cellphones, so in typical Campbell fashion, he took the boy under his wing. He let him check out the shop and passed him a snack until his family noticed he was missing. The story has been a classic for the Campbell family ever since.

Just like in that situation, Bill Campbell, who also was selectman in Hartland, would always do what he could to help. During the gas shortage, for example, he had to put out a sign indicating the garage was out of fuel.

But to the local fire department, that meant there was still enough for the fire and rescue trucks.

And one snowy night back when doctors did house calls, he delivered a physician by snowmobile to a house on Garvin Hill Road.

Campbell worked sun up to sun down, so long as the cars were coming in, his daughter Lisa Campbell Brown said recently.

But, there came a point in time in November — without fail, every year — when everyone knew the garage wouldn’t be open for mechanic work. It was hunting season, and Campbell deserved the well-earned break.

Campbell hunted in various places in the Upper Valley, but particularly enjoyed remote spots in Hartland and Barnard. He had great success too.

“It seemed as if he had shot a deer, hunted, seen a deer or been with someone who had shot a deer just about everywhere between Hartland and Barnard,” his grandson, Eric Brown, read aloud in a statement at Campbell’s service. Some of Campbell’s best days were spent with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the woods, at their sporting events and concerts, or just about anywhere, his family said.

“He was a quiet bystander,” Lisa Brown said of her father. “But he really enjoyed it.”

Bill Campbell ran the garage until it sold in 1992. Though he formally retired, he put in hours for his nephew’s company, Precision Cutter Grinding.

Working fewer — or perhaps shorter — days meant more time to spend with his wife. The pair enjoyed the outdoors, including attending bluegrass festivals and taking trips to Las Vegas Motor Speedway with other members of the family. Campbell was an avid stock car race fan.

Bill would garden and Irene would can, and there would always be a basket of extra vegetables at the end of their Hartland driveway.

In addition to the classics, Campbell grew pumpkins and would often carve names into them with a nail.

As the years went on, hunting adventures continued, and a parcel of land in the hills of Barnard where Campbell would hunt in his early days soon became a part of the family. Tom Campbell and his longtime friend and “camp partner,” Jon Springer, got the opportunity to purchase and preserve a slice of heaven.

And thanks to Bill Campbell’s help, several families now get to enjoy a 20-foot-by-24 cabin in Barnard Chateauguay, a remote area near Bridgewater.

“When we went to build the camp, he was right there, every step of the way,” Springer, a Windsor attorney, said recently. “Bill and I would work together and he was the type of guy who was just intuitive. You didn’t say, ‘hey, Bill, I need this tool,’ he would have it right there before you even knew you needed it.”

Campbell was given the title of “camp master.”

“Bill was a quintessential Vermonter,” Springer said. “He grew up in the Woodstock-Bridgewater area on the farm and that is where he learned his values and he never forgot them. He was always there to give people a helping hand.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.