LESLIE CRISS: Hero-turned-friend brought about change by living the Gospel

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by.”
Felix Adler

“As best I can figure, Will Campbell is exactly what the Bible tells us to be.”
Waylon Jennings

The world lost a good friend last Monday when Will Davis Campbell breathed his last and slipped peacefully from this life. His wife Brenda, his three children and four grandchildren were close by.
He was my hero long before he became my friend. I read his book, “Brother to a Dragonfly,” which was a great and powerful influence on my life.
Most folks called him Brother Will. Or simply Will, which is what I called him after being chastised for calling him Rev. Campbell. He didn’t much like that, though he was one of the truest preachers I’ve ever heard.
We met in Vicksburg two decades ago. I’d written a story about his coming to a local bookstore to sign copies of a new book. On the day of the signing, I showed up early to meet my hero.
It was a stormy day in the River City. We sat on a wicker love seat in the bookstore waiting for folks to show up. No one did.
For two amazing hours, I sat with this man and we got to know each other. The store owner kept apologizing for the no-shows. He didn’t seem to care one whit. And I certainly didn’t.
In the years that followed, we shared letters and phone calls on occasion. And I’d go hear him speak anytime the distance was within reason.
About 16 years ago, my sister, a friend and I traveled early one morning to spend the day with Will at his Mt. Juliet, Tenn., home. We brought lunch – chicken salad sandwiches and one of our Great-Aunt Lota Lee’s pound cakes.
Will provided the iced-cold Co-Cola’s from the icebox out in the cabin where he did all his writing.
When we arrived, he was outside the cabin, stacking wood. As we approached, he opened his arms and said to each of us, “You may embrace me modestly.”
After lunch, Will asked if he might read to us from a manuscript he was just finishing. It would later be published – “And Also With You” – about his friend the Right Rev. Duncan M Gray Jr.
He sat in an old barber shop chair and began to read a poignant and powerful piece of prose from the loose pages.
When he finished, no one spoke – all moved to silence by Will’s words.
After a few moments, he stood, walked to his rolltop desk and picked up a Mason jar partially filled with moonshine from a friend’s still. He stood before us, lifted the jar and proclaimed, “Blood of Christ,” took a sip, then passed it around for his visitors to share in this impromtu Eucharist.
It was a most holy moment. And one that will not be forgotten.
Rest in peace, Brother Will.
leslie.criss@journalinc.com