The Baylor icon and wife to Dave Campbell died January 5 after several years of declining health.
Reba Campbell occupies a special place in Texas journalism as part of the vanguard of women who broke barriers in news reporting in the post-World War II era. She believed that women could cover hard news and shouldn’t be confined to the “society” or “women’s news” pages as those sections were commonly called then. Women in the larger markets of Houston and Dallas were breaking out of the traditions at the same time and received wider notice. But Reba, quietly and efficiently after graduating from Baylor in 1947, went to work at the Waco Tribune-Herald and began covering news stories and writing features. She also was a Central Texas correspondent for United Press International and covered a journey through the state by President Dwight Eisenhower.
She was born Reba Lou Weaver in Navasota, Texas, in 1924. Her death, on Jan. 5 at age 95, came after several years of declining health. There were immediate tributes and memories of her accomplishments from many journalists as well as her husband, the legendary sports writer and founder of Texas Football Dave Campbell, to whom she was married 70 years. Reba and Dave Campbell met while both worked at the Waco newspaper. They married in 1950, the same year Dave graduated from Baylor after returning from military duty in Europe in World War II.
It was a fortuitous and journalistic newsroom encounter that brought the two together. Dave tells the story this way: “I’d seen Reba in the newsroom but we really didn’t have any interaction. One day she was sent out to cover a really bad automobile accident on a highway outside Waco. One of the vehicles caught fire, and it was a pretty gruesome scene. Reba came back and was so shaken she just couldn’t type. So I told her if she just told me the story I’d type it. She had the details and all her notes. She told me the story, and I typed it out. And that’s how we started to get to know each other.”
Reba seemed to know Dave’s weakness, because it wasn’t long after that she and another reporter brought ice cream for him from a pharmacy near the newspaper.
The marriage had a less-than-perfect beginning. Reba had arranged for the first night to be in the honeymoon suite of a hotel in Austin. “But the weather was really bad with a lot of fog,” Dave said. “We only got as far as Temple and had to stay in some type of a tourist court like they had back in those days. The bed was terrible, and it was slanted so much that we could barely stay on it.”
Reba was an integral part of the founding of Texas Football magazine, first published in 1960. She allowed her kitchen table to be used for page layouts and story drafts, a cluttered process long before such production work was done on computer. She remained encouraging to her husband, even after the magazine lost money in the first couple of years. The magazine lost $5,000 in the first year, no small amount of money in 1960, and $3,000 the second year. “But Reba wouldn’t let me quit,” Dave said. “She kept talking about the great reaction we had from people and how much people really liked the magazine.”
Reba and the Campbells’ two daughters, Becky and Julie, would help stimulate interest for the magazine and even lined up distributors. And in the third year, Waco restaurateur Roy Bertrand approached Dave with the idea to distribute the magazine in restaurants throughout the state. Texas Football turned the corner, and it became the standard for coverage of football in the state of Texas. Dave and Reba were honored at a special ceremony at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, receiving the Lamar Hunt Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hall of Fame Legends Gala.
Reba for years was a respected member of the journalism faculty at Baylor. She led students on interterm trips over the holidays to New York and Washington, D.C. The trips included visits to news media organizations and political office holders. One year the group met CBS newsman Walter Cronkite. Former journalism professor David McHam ’58 said that during one trip Reba called Dave and told him that she was having such a good time she wasn’t coming home. Dave reported this to the daughters, but Becky didn’t get the joke and began crying. “I had to reassure her that it was just a joke and that she would be coming home soon,” Dave said.
Reba was a music lover and served as president of the Waco Symphony Association and the Texas Association for Symphony Orchestras, which gave her the Award of Excellence in 1992. She was only the third person to receive that award. Her volunteer activities extended to many organizations in Waco and Central Texas. She was an active member of Austin Ave. United Methodist Church in Waco and served as chairman of the board of trustees.
Reba’s life was celebrated days after her death at a memorial service at Austin Ave. United Methodist Church. She was remembered as a woman of ebullient optimism who had an infectious laugh and always a word of kindness and encouragement. The service featured beautifully performed music and poignant and often humorous stories by family and friends. It was properly noted in a eulogy by a grandson that ice cream was permitted for breakfast at Reba and Dave’s home.
Reba is survived by husband Dave; her daughters, Becky Roche and husband, David, and Julie Carlson and her husband, Alan; grandchildren, Campbell Roche and his wife, Katie, Jackson Roche and his wife, Caroline, and Derby Carlson; her sister, Lynette Walker; her sister-in-law, Jo Campbell; and many nieces and nephews.
Tony Pederson (’73) holds The Belo Foundation Endowed Chair in Journalism at Southern Methodist University. He worked on the Waco Tribune-Herald sports staff under Dave Campbell 1970-74.