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Remembering William David Campbell

“Campbell was synonymous with football in Texas. He’ll be missed by many.”

Dave Campbell was the Shakespeare of sportswriters, a wordsmith whose columns informed, entertained, and captivated his loyal readers for almost 70 years.

During his legendary, 40-year career as the sports editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald and the founder of Texas Football magazine in 1960, Campbell painted vivid portraits of Southwest Conference football and the colorful characters who coached and played the game he loved.

When Campbell died in December at 96, Texas lost an institution. Family, friends, and fans across the Lone Star State mourned the loss of a journalism giant who had a profound impact on their lives and careers.

At the Tribune-Herald and Texas Football and as the editor of the Baylor Insider for 15 years, Campbell employed enough writers, editors, and photographers to staff a major metropolitan newsroom. At one time or another, they all tried to emulate his style, but they soon learned there was only one Dave Campbell.

“I can make an argument Dave had more impact on Texas journalism than any other single person,” said Tony Pederson, a Waco native and Baylor graduate who worked for Campbell at the Tribune-Herald. “Texas Football changed sports journalism in Texas. He launched the careers of dozens of journalists at the Waco Tribune-Herald, including mine, and inspired hundreds more.”

Pederson, who became sports editor, managing editor, and editor of the Houston Chronicle and a professor who chairs the journalism department at SMU, grew up reading Campbell.

“He was among the group of sportswriters in the state who elevated the sports story to cultural journalism written with literary flair,” Pederson said. “He could quote Kipling and Browning easily. And he constantly emphasized thoroughness, fairness and, above all, accuracy.”

Those who were fortunate to work for Campbell admired him for much more than his ability to produce prose that mesmerized his readers for generations.

First and foremost, Dave Campbell was a gentleman. He treated everyone with respect. He carried himself with grace and personified dignity. He oozed humility and integrity.

“If you don’t like Dave, you don’t like life,” former University of Texas coach Darrell Royal said during at event at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

Royal, Grant Teaff, Frank Broyles, Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings, and Bill Yeoman were among the college head coaches who communicated regularly with Campbell and sought his counsel.

As a writer, Campbell prided himself on fairness. He was a careful reporter, and getting his facts straight was important to him. He could be critical when a team deserved it, but he was never mean-spirited. He abhorred cheap shots and didn’t respect writers who used them.

“He meant the world to me and to a lot of people,” said David McHam, Campbell’s close friend and former colleague at the Tribune-Herald before he became the head of Baylor’s journalism department. “Dave was the kind of man who made you want to be a better person. He held himself with such dignity and grace.”

Campbell, who enlisted in 1942 and earned a Bronze Star during the Allied assault on Germany in World War II, believed in faith, family, and football. He was a devoted husband to Reba and a loving father to daughters Becky and Julie.

After the War, Campbell returned to Waco, earned his degree from Baylor, and went to work at the Tribune-Herald. When he was 28 in 1953, Campbell replaced legendary sports editor Jinx Tucker. In those early years, Campbell found it difficult to replace a legend, but over time, he worked hard enough to became one himself.

No one knew better than his family what a workaholic Campbell was. He was able to balance his responsibilities between the Tribune-Herald and Texas Football, relying heavily on the contributions of his trusted sidekick, Hollis Biddle.

Biddle, assistant sports editor at the Tribune-Herald, got in on the ground floor of Texas Football and played a vital role in the magazine’s production for decades. Because of Texas Football’s success, Campbell and Biddle also produced magazines devoted to the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Oilers, and Arkansas Football, among others.

“Dave was that rarest of figures in any profession,” David Barron said.

Barron worked for Campbell at the Tribune-Herald before spending three decades at the Houston Chronicle. He also served as Texas Football’s editor for years.

“His name became synonymous with the sport he chronicled and celebrated,” Barron wrote after Campbell’s death. “For many, he’ll be remembered not as much for the business he created but for the kindness and encouragement he displayed to generations of writers, broadcasters, coaches, and players.”

When it came to journalism, Campbell was a perfectionist.

“When I went to work at the Tribune-Herald, I was still a student at Baylor,” Pederson said. “My first big assignment was a Baylor football game sidebar, with Dave doing the main story. I was sitting next to him in the Baylor press box, and I noticed he kept his own play-by-play, in exacting detail.

“I said, ‘Mr. Campbell, why do you keep your own play-by-play? They distribute one here in the press box.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Sometimes there are mistakes in their play-by-play.”

Campbell was a stickler for spelling. He treated misspelled words like bad breath – he had no use for them.

One reason Campbell hired Lester Zedd out of Waco Connally High School was because of his expertise at spelling. While working at the Tribune-Herald, Zedd earned his degree from Baylor and spent decades at the Houston Post and Houston Chronicle.

“I’ll never forget after I edited a story, I heard Mr. Campbell say to Hollis, ‘Mr. Biddle, I think we’ve got ourselves someone who can spell,’” Zedd remembered.

I’d like to end this tribute to Campbell with a personal note.

I grew up in Waco and attended my first Baylor game in 1960 when the Bears beat Colorado on Cub Scout Night. I was 8. I told my father how much I loved the Bears. He handed me the sports section he read every day. I’ll never forget my dad telling me, “If you want to learn about football and the Baylor Bears, you have to read Dave Campbell.”

I had no idea who Dave was, and I couldn’t understand half the words he wrote, but I became a devoted reader. I was blessed to work for Campbell for almost four years while I attended Baylor. I left for the Houston Chronicle in 1976.

I have so many wonderful memories of Campbell and those who worked for him. My respect and admiration for him as a journalist and as a man grew even stronger through the decades. I was honored to introduce him at his induction into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and to be invited to speak at his retirement event as well as his funeral.

Campbell would have been embarrassed at all the tributes written after his death. He always said reporters should write the news, not make it. For someone who went out of his way to avoid attention, he sure got a lot of it. And it was well-deserved.

Campbell was synonymous with football in Texas. He’ll be missed by many and never forgotten because that’s what happens with legends. 

John McClain (‘75), a Waco native and Baylor graduate, has covered the NFL, including the Oilers and Texans, for four-plus decades at the Houston Chronicle. In addition to numerous awards and accolades celebrating his writing, he is a 2019 recipient of Baylor Line Foundation’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

Please, join us and many of your fellow Bears in honoring Dave’s legacy by donating in tribute to the Dave Campbell Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Donate today at baylorline.com/campbellfund

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