The First John Campbell Remembered
June 19, 2014
Upper Photo - Jack Campbell with sons Jim and John in the Mohawk paddock .This family photo was displayed on the front cover of The Canadian Sportsman in 2005 .
Lower Photo - Driver Jack Campbell receives The Carling Trophy as Western Fair's leading driver in 1964 from Carling Sales Rep. Chuck Butler .
The First John Campbell Remembered
The sport of Harness Racing has lost one of its greatest assets, and an irreplaceable one at that .John Trafford "Jack" Campbell passed away on Monday June 18,yielding to the effects of lung cancer .Just 10 days short of his 81st birthday, Jack completed his earthly journey .Appropriately in horse racing parlance you might say "he went his last mile ..." Perhaps it was also symbolic that he died just one day after Father's Day, a day that honours a calling that he performed so admirably .
For well over 40 years I have had the pleasure of his company and the kindness of his friendship and that of his gracious wife Florence .It has been a treasure ,although we did not see each other all that often,as the saying goes "we hit it off" well .. .I knew this day was fast approaching but it is still always a bit of a shock .I have had the privilege of writing stories about three generations of the Campbell family ;this particular one has been a little more difficult .
When Jack started his interest and involvement in the sport of harness racing ,needless to say things were vastly different .The racing season was short and the "action" always close to home . It was by necessity a family affair , more a labour of love and a passion rather than an occupation or even a way to make a sideline living . Even those who won ,earned very little . Imagine the fate of those who were not so successful .Still it was deeply entrenched in the Campbell's blood and they persevered .Jack won the first race he ever drove in when he had barely reached his teens .That was at the Ilderton Fair over 65 years ago behind a family mare named Margaret B Grattan .
The "Clan" under the guiding and watchful eye of Jack's father Duncan, raised ,trained and raced all of their own horses . Duncan once said that no one outside the family could care for a horse properly (or maybe as economically) .When they set out for a day at the races, they went to win but they also observed the rules of sportsmanship and enjoyment . Mrs. Campbell packed their lunch and everyone had a job . At day's end they headed home thankful to have what came their way . It is interesting to note that Duncan raced horses for some 30 years before he ever stayed away from home more than overnight . That was when he journeyed to Thorncliffe Park in Toronto in 1953 and showed the talents of their star Argyel Grattan to a National audience .
Jack learned at a young age the value of work and responsibility,and it was something he never forgot .In 1944 at the tender age of 13 he was sent off to the Town of Stratford to race a horse named Babe Grattan's Boy ,a foal of the Campbell's great "little brown mare" who of course was Babe Grattan .His Dad and others in the family were busy with harvest time and threshing on the farm . Jack rode with a neighbour Archie Pedden, and a veteran driver of the day named Harry Fields was hired to drive . At the conclusion of the day's racing, the 3 year old gelding and the 13 year old boy were victorious . In a story told to me some 40 years later by Duncan (with Jack standing nearby) it ranks as one of my favourites .It went something like this ....
As Jack returned home his father greeted him . " Did you look after the horse ? Yes . Did you cool him out ? Yes .Did you have any supper ? No . I'll bet you're tired aren't you ? ....Yeah Dad ,but I got the money right here " as he patted his pants pocket .
Jack had a great mind and an equally sharp memory . He remembered horses and people and how they were related and fit into the sport at large . He knew history and folklore but never bored you by acting scholarly . He recalled where the old tracks once were and could even tell you about their quirks and oddities .He told of characters and things that happened well behind the scenes .Unlike traditional story tellers though ,he was never the hero of his many stories .
From the dusty small Town ovals around Strathroy and Parkhill Ont. where racing was just a country pastime ,the Campbell name eventually spread virtually across the Continent .With the name came not only winning but also a dedication to integrity and honesty so vital to the sport .In his day Jack won his share of races and driving titles and later always joined in the triumphs of his extended family . He has made more trips than anyone can count out to the winner's circle following the largest and most prestigious races ever contested .Those who look forward to his visits at places like The Little Brown Jug will surely miss him .It is a reminder for all of us to enjoy each of our days ,they do not go on forever .
I once heard that there are two ways in life to be rich . One is to have vast sums of money and the other is to have true happiness and want for nothing . Based on the second premise, I would say that Jack Campbell was about the richest man I have ever known . He treasured his friends and family and treated them all with respect . He loved his wife and honoured their vows throughout a lifetime together . He listened more than he spoke and he knew and cared about the things in life that really matter .When Jack smiled which he did often, he made those around him feel good about themselves .His life's philosophy was not complicated or forced on others .
He not only enjoyed life ;he loved it ! .
I will miss Jack and our phone conversations and his stories ...yes he had the best stories and filled in many blanks for me .But his memory will never be too far away .
" What one leaves behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments ,but what is woven into the lives of others " Unknown