by Steven Hale
Our friends at Chapter16.org have posted the text of journalist John Egerton's eulogy of civil rights activist and preacher (and more) Will D. Campbell, from a memorial service on June 22 at St. Stephen Catholic Community in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.
On the second of August, 1965, I started to work for a magazine in Nashville. I had just turned thirty and moved with my wife and two children from Florida. The magazine was housed in a rambling old residence near the Peabody College campus, and my second-floor office, formerly a closet with a window, was barely big enough for a desk and chair, plus a second chair wedged into one corner.
I had met all my fellow staff members that morning and been given a warm welcome and my first assignment, which I was busily researching when the noon hour arrived. I heard a bump-bump-bump on the stairs just outside my doorway, and looked up to see a denim-clad, bespectacled man with a tumble of wavy locks dangling beneath the broad brim of a huge black hat. He stood there looking quizzically at me, whistling under his breath. I noticed that he was leaning on a carved walking cane, and one of his pants legs was canted into the top of a calf-high leather cowboy boot. I couldn’t keep from staring at the guy. He looked to be about sixty years old (he was, in fact, just forty-one), and mischievous, somehow, with the slightest hint of a sneer on his lips.
“You the new boy, huh?” he finally said, looking me over with what I felt was an air of disapproval. I stuttered an affirmative answer, and then he hit me again with another direct question:
“You cut hair?”
“Uh, well, no sir, I never have.”
“You’re not saying you can’t?”
“Uh, no sir, I just never have…. I guess I could, if I had to.”
He pulled the extra chair from the corner and put it in the doorway, facing out. Sitting down, he removed his hat and said over his shoulder, “You got some scissors in your desk, don’t you? All journalists got a pair of scissors.” I scrambled through the drawers and came up with the needed tool. “Just trim it around the back of my neck a little,” he directed. And so, within the next few minutes—before we had even exchanged names or the obligatory “Where you from?” line—I had become the new barber to Will Davis Campbell, and we had set out on a friendship that would last a lifetime.
Do read Egerton's entire remembrance here.