Thursday, July 09, 2020
City Club Member Dennis Dooley on the late Marguerite Brown Campbell
by Dennis Dooley, Longtime City Club member
With the passing of Marguerite Brown (“Peggy”) Campbell this spring, the City Club said a reluctant goodbye to one of its most faithful supporting couples. It was Peggy’s late husband Thomas F. Campbell, a past president of the City Club (1970) and Hall of Fame honoree, who preserved for posterity the story of how the nation’s longest running forum for the exchange of ideas was founded and its colorful first 50 years. Copies of this highly readable book, Freedom’s Forum: The City Club, 1912–1962, can still be found online.
And it was Tom who, in the 1972 debate over whether to open the Club’s membership to women, said it was time to acknowledge the sea change then taking place in America. He compared the situation of women half a century after getting the vote to that of his Irish ancestors, who, at the very time the City Club was founded, were still being told by the British government: “Thus far, and no further, shall ye come.”
Tom himself had been denied access to higher education as a lad, and apprenticed instead to a baker, because he was seen as lacking the aptitude for further study. Turned out he simply needed glasses. Years later, his Ph.D. was proudly displayed on the living room wall alongside the framed document certifying that he had completed his required four years as a baker’s apprentice. (He still made a mean Irish soda bread.)
When young Marguerite Brown came into Tom’s life in 1953, just weeks after his arrival in America, he found an equally passionate partner in what they saw as their lifelong work: building on the best of America’s ideals and rich heritage to make a better life for all its citizens. Peggy found work with Cuyahoga County’s Society for Crippled Children (now Achievement Centers for Children); later, having studied photography at the Polytechnic of Central London and the International Center of Photography in New York City, she donated her services as a skilled photographer to various local causes. Peg served on the board of the Free Clinic, and helped organize fundraisers for cultural and political events, and even spent some time as Dagmar Celeste’s volunteer driver, transporting Ohio’s First Lady-to-be to a myriad of far-flung events when her husband was running for governor.
Tom, called frequently by Council President George Forbes for advice (in my presence), was said to have ghostwritten Mayor George Voinovich’s course-setting inaugural address. He coordinated two levy campaigns for Cleveland Public Library; created Cleveland State University’s first course in Cleveland history; co-founded (and from 1969 to 1975 served as director of) the Institute for Urban Studies, which became CSU’s nationally renowned College of Urban Affairs.
Together Tom and Peggy, with Maxine Levin and Olive Deany Tabor, created the Cleveland Restoration Society in the nick of time to save many of Cleveland’s landmark buildings from the voracious wrecking ball of “Urban Renewal”; and the couple supported a school in Tom’s native (and then still violence-torn and bitterly sectarian) Northern Ireland where children of forward-thinking Catholic and Protestant families could learn side by side and play together daily.
But it was their establishment with a generous financial gift, of the annual Thomas F. and Marguerite Brown Campbell Endowed Forum, that is perhaps dearest to our hearts. Indeed, Peggy’s fondest memory, several years after Tom’s passing, was receiving a grateful hug and warm words of appreciation from Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny following his memorable speech at the Campbell Forum in 2012 that had to be moved to a ballroom to accommodate the number of people in attendance.
Peggy and Tom’s fervent commitment to social justice and what their Jewish friends called Tikkun Olam (the Repair of the World) is sweetly bookended for me by two little stories separated by many years but linked by a common setting. Back in the ‘50s, while pursuing his doctorate at what was then Western Reserve University, Tom was working weekends as a gardener in Cleveland Heights. It was there, invited by his employer to share lunch by the kitchen radio, that Tom discovered the City Club. Many decades later, when their own faithful gardener, a simple uneducated man, was too old and infirm to perform all the rigorous tasks that the work required, Tom and Peggy continued to pay him his weekly salary, and once hired a lawyer to defend him against an unfair charge. Most tellingly, they took time off from their own very busy lives to appear in court on his behalf.
Peggy and Tom Campbell, in short, not only advocated, but lived community. Wherever an opportunity came their way, they used their time, money, and influence to help build a fairer, more thoughtful, and resilient society. We celebrate their legacy, and their example.