Rest in peace, Ed Campbell

Ed Campbell, a legendary figure in the Iowa Democratic Party, died last Thursday and was fondly remembered today during his funeral at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Des Moines. I hadn’t realized until I read the obituary in the Des Moines Register that Campbell had been a Republican before going to work for Governor Harold Hughes. In that job, he helped “oversee the establishment of the community colleges” in Iowa. Campbell later worked in Hughes’ Senate office, and managed John Culver’s successful U.S. Senate campaign in 1974. He chaired the Iowa Democratic Party during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Though he never held elective office, he advised many political candidates and took immense pride in his wife Bonnie’s election as Iowa attorney general in 1990. He played a central role in that campaign and in her bid for governor four years later.

Click here to read reflections from Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa, as well as statements released by the Iowa Democratic Party, Governor Chet Culver, Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, Senator Tom Harkin, and former President Bill Clinton. The Des Moines Register noted Campbell’s influence over “a class of political professionals” in Iowa, including Teresa Vilmain, John Cacciatore and John Frew, who told the Register, “He taught a whole generation of us how to count, that every minute of every day in a campaign counts.”

At the bottom of this Radio Iowa story you can listen to audio clips of eulogies delivered by Monsignor Frank Chiodo, Campbell’s sister Christine Lantis, Iowa First Lady Mari Culver, longtime friends Dan Miller and Ned Chiodo, and President Bill Clinton. Kay Henderson posted a partial transcript of Clinton’s eulogy as well. Many of the speakers shared funny stories about Campbell. Clinton spoke about how fortunate he and Hillary Clinton had been to receive advice and support from Campbell over the years. The former president got some of the biggest laughs of the service during this part of his eulogy:

I know Ed Campbell had a gentle, good, kind side, but he was brilliant at hiding it. I mean, the first time I ever met this guy he leans into me with this big bald head and these sharp features and these piercing eyes.  I actually thought I had run into somebody out of Star Wars. I thought I was being interviewed to see whether I was suitable to go on the next inter-galactic conquest mission.

Ned Chiodo told several stories about Campbell’s kindness and generosity to people in need. He also reminded the audience, “Every single one of you have an Edward story and they’re terrific, but I want to assure you Edward had a story about every one of you. And I took copious notes.”

I didn’t know Campbell well but was fortunate to see him in action while I volunteered for Bonnie Campbell’s gubernatorial campaign in 1994. He was a great story-teller, and I hope he wrote down or recorded his political memories. I wish I could remember the details of his story about attending the funeral of Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito. Somehow Vice President Walter Mondale, who was representing the U.S. at that event, included Campbell in the American delegation. During the procession Campbell brought up the rear of the U.S. group, which meant he was walking immediately in front of the Soviet delegation led by General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev.

Although complications from cancer eventually killed Campbell, he lived far longer than expected after his lung cancer diagnosis in 1983. His family’s wishes are that in lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be given to the American Cancer Society or the Iowa Democratic Party.

Bleeding Heartland readers, please share your own memories of Ed Campbell in this thread.

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