Roger Campbell remembered

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   Roger Campbell, 51, was laid to rest Friday afternoon following a memorial service at Tetrick Funeral Home. The day allowed opportunity for those who knew and loved Campbell to remember happier times.
   Campbell died last Sunday when he turned his gun on himself after killing Gerry Robinette, and seriously injuring his estranged wife, Peggy Campbell.
   During his 30 years in education, Roger Campbell was able to develop close relationships with his co-workers. Campbell's colleagues at Valley Forge Elementary School are still trying to come to terms with the reality of his final actions, while at the same time they mourn a friend.
   Although Campbell's friends do not minimize the gravity of what he did, they fear the man they worked with for decades will not be remembered as they knew him. Phil Pearson teaches math at Valley Forge Elementary, and describes Campbell as a kind, gentle man.
   "I hope that people will not look at Roger and judge him for one deed and five minutes of his life, when for 50 some years before that he was a model citizen, good friend, father, husband, brother, and son," Pearson said.
   Pearson remembered Campbell helping him through difficult times in his own personal life. He considered Campbell one of his best friends. "I want everybody to understand that Roger Campbell is not a monster. He was as good a man as you will find in Carter County," Pearson said. "I am not justifying what he did. He took the lives of two people, including his own, and he hurt his wife. It was wrong."
   In his tenure as a teacher, Campbell has taught generations of students. Sabrina Baker had the unique situation of being both student and colleague to Campbell. She remembers him as a practical joker and a mentor. "He, as a lot of my teachers did, inspired me to go on and become a teacher and that is how I will remember him," Baker said.
   Mitzie Hobbs went to high school with Campbell and taught third grade with him at Valley Forge. She stated that Campbell's violent acts were non-characteristic of the man she has known for years. "I have never seen him lose his temper. He dealt with those kids in such a gentle way," Hobbs said. "It is just unimaginable. The man that did that was not Roger Campbell. It is just so hard."
   Carter County School Counselor Becky Swain stated a number of teachers had approached Campbell during the weeks leading to his death to voice their concerns. She said he rejected their attempts to reach out to him. "He was not the same person this year that he was last. He kept very much to himself." Swain said.
   Faculty and staff at Valley Forge have found it difficult to be in the environment where they used to see Campbell daily. It is hard for them to pass the classroom where he used to teach. "We have to walk through his room to get to any part of the building and it is hard to remember him standing there laughing and carrying on at the mail boxes," Baker said.
   In addition to coping with their own grief, teachers at Valley Forge have had the daunting task of trying to answer students' questions. Most of the students have had just one question; why?
   "I explained to the students that nobody understands why, and the counselor told them the only one that can answer that is Mr. Campbell and he is not here. That seemed to satisfy them," Hobbs said.
   Counselors dealt candidly with students when telling them about Campbell's death. Swain went to each classroom to inform the students of what happened.
   Corey Scalf, 9, heard about his former teacher's death before counselors had the opportunity to tell him. "I thought that it was not true because I knew Mr. Campbell wouldn't do that, until l I saw the teachers come. That's when I knew something was really wrong," Scalf said. "Ms. Swain came in and told us that Mr. Campbell was dead and everybody just sat there and listened."
   Scalf was in Campbell's classroom last year and remembers building a rocket and learning his multiplication tables with the third-grade teacher. He said he still went to Campbell's classroom everyday because he missed seeing him. "I love him," Scalf said.
   The students, faculty, and staff at Valley Forge are now left to move on without Campbell. They hope this tragedy will only make them stronger. "This is a deep wound for everybody," Swain said. "But scar tissue is tougher than regular tissue."
   Campbell's colleagues expressed their sympathy for Peggy Campbell. They stated their hearts go out to her and that they are praying for her as she continues to recover.