Local Politics

Family copes with Ralph Campbell's death

Posted January 13, 2011 6:40 p.m. EST

— Forged in the heat of Raleigh's civil rights movement, the Campbell family remained a tight-knit unit through the years, with members calling each other every morning.

Those phone calls no longer include Ralph Campbell Jr., the first black person elected to a statewide political office in North Carolina, who died Tuesday night after a battle with lung cancer.

"I always looked up to Ralph," said his youngest brother, Eddie Campbell.

"He was really a renaissance man," said Bill Campbell, the middle of the three brothers.

Community activists Ralph Campbell Sr. and June Campbell expected their children to make a difference. Bill Campbell integrated Raleigh public schools in 1960 and later became mayor of Atlanta, and Ralph Campbell Jr. amazed even his most ardent believers when he was elected North Carolina state auditor in 1992.

"When Ralph first told us he was going to run for statewide office, we were, like, 'Come on,'" said his sister, Mildred Christmas.

During his 12 years as state auditor, he brought more technology to the office, and his staff conducted about 3,600 audits during his tenure, including some in the face of political pressure.

"He was able to transform a state that, in many ways, had been backwards," Bill Campbell said.

Gov. Beverly Perdue on Thursday ordered all North Carolina flags at state facilities be flown at half-staff in tribute to Ralph Campbell.

A longtime smoker, Ralph Campbell was diagnosed last fall with lung cancer. His final words to his siblings two weeks ago as he lay dying in Duke Raleigh Hospital helped and hurt them.

"He looked up at us, and he said, 'I love you,' and he looked at all three of us," Christmas said.

Through their pain, though, the Campbells remember a good life their brother led.

Aside from his prominent political career, Ralph Campbell Jr. was a master story teller who connected to most everyone he met. He also was an immaculate dresser with a penchant for classic cars.

"(I would ask) 'Why you keep buying all those cars?' He'd say, 'My money,'" Eddie Campbell said.

Ralph Campbell will lie in repose in the State Capitol rotunda from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday.

A visitation will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday in the Fletcher Opera Theater at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh. His funeral will be at noon Saturday at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, 813 Darby St., followed by interment at Carolina Biblical Gardens in Garner.

"It's painful, but he's at peace," Christmas said.