Bob Campbell's byline has appeared in the Colorado Springs Independent longer, and more prolifically, than anyone else in the paper's 23-year history.
But the writer, musician, runner, devoted father and educator lost his battle with cancer on Oct. 18. He was 66.
None of us can recall exactly when he started writing for the Indy, but it was more than two decades ago. Wearing a baseball cap with his silver ponytail flowing out behind, he soon became a fixture on the staff, covering news stories and tackling major cover-story projects.
One of those, a lengthy March 2001 feature on legendary jazz guitarist Johnny Smith living quietly in Colorado Springs, has elicited as much response as any single piece in this newspaper. Even today, new readers find it online and convey their appreciation.
"Bob's story captured Johnny Smith's unpretentiousness, and his character, perfectly," said Cara DeGette, longtime Indy editor/columnist and his news editor in the 1990s, then editor-in-chief from 2001-2006. "Jazz fans across the globe were delighted to learn what had become of their unforgotten hero. We were so proud of Bob for landing that story, and he thought it was pretty neat too."
Another of Campbell's more enduring stories explored the life of Manitou Springs artist Charles Rockey, inspiring online responses more than a decade later.
At the same time, Bob willingly took on another duty — a weekly person-on-the-street column. Those interviews, relating to news of the day as well as pertinent social issues, were labeled as "IQ" for many years, changing to "Street Smarts" in 2011.
"Bob was initially very shy about approaching people but he soon became comfortable," said Kathryn Eastburn, the Indy's first editor. "He was so utterly reliable, every week. ... What a sweet, gentle soul he was."
While also teaching alternative high school classes in District 11, Bob continued Street Smarts until three months ago, stopped only by his deteriorating health.
"He'd just go up to people on the sidewalk, in a bar, over at the county building, at Acacia Park, at the Citadel Mall," DeGette said. "He'd come back to the newsroom with frank, funny, bizarre, insightful responses. He just loved doing those johnny-on-the-spot interviews. ... He also had this great laugh, which was sort of a low 'heh, heh, heh,' sometimes followed by a little snort."
Indy executive editor Ralph Routon, who followed DeGette in 2007, recalls how "Bob would go to public events, farmers markets, wherever he could find an interesting mix of people. But doing that is hard. Not everybody wants to talk or have their photo taken without warning, and many people need prodding to share their feelings. You have to improvise. I always admired how Bob could get almost anyone, young or old, from every imaginable walk of life, to answer his questions.
"To many more people than we'll probably ever know, Bob Campbell was the face of the Independent."
Bob was born in Denver on Feb. 21, 1950. He became a gifted long-distance runner at Lincoln High School and won the 1967 Colorado state individual cross-country championship, earning him a full athletic scholarship at the University of Colorado. While at Boulder, he competed in the NCAA championships where CU's team finished as high as fifth nationally.
He graduated cum laude from CU majoring in literature, feeding a lifelong passion for reading. From there he attended graduate school at Rutgers University in New Jersey before going on to teach at Langston University and elsewhere.
Bob became a journalist along the way, combining his work as a teacher with writing for local newspapers. He was a talented pianist with a broad awareness of the arts, another avenue for his writing. He was an avid reader and collector of books and records. His love of running followed him his whole life, including an unbroken streak of running every day for more than 13 years.
Bob was close to his daughter, Chantry Campbell, who posted this tribute on Facebook: "Those lucky enough to have known him know how kind, funny, smart, and loving he is."
Bob met the love of his life, Terry Gretsky, in 2004. They became close friends and partners, and in 2011 she moved from Los Angeles to Colorado. Since then, they had lived harmoniously together, finding great joy in whatever they did, including their conversations, and she supported his dedication to his work.
"Bob was a kind, loving, passionate, intelligent man," Terry said, "and he will be missed deeply by his family, his friends and the students whose lives he touched."
Ironically, his final Street Smarts column on July 20 was titled "With a whimper or a bang?" with questions about how his interviewees expected the world to end, and what the world would be like without humans.
We don't know that answer, but we do know the Indy won't ever be the same without Bob Campbell.
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