A tribute to my Dad, which my sisters and I wrote for his funeral.
We may be a little biased, but I think we can truly say that Derek Gilliland Campbell was a very special man. A doctor, sportsman in his youth, an elder in the Presbyterian church, someone who loved to create with his hands, a person of deep faith, and, most especially, a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather.
Our Dad loved to reminisce about his sporting days – he played first team rugby for Hilton College and captained their gymnastics team. But the sporting achievement of which he was most proud was as an oarsman, when he rowed for Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games. That was when he was at Queens University, Belfast, where he studied medicine like his brothers and father and mother before him. He came from a long line of doctors, and he was proud of being DR Campbell. He loved Ireland and all things Irish, especially our Mom.
He worked very long hours as we were growing up, but he always made time to be at our special events, and would listen when we recounted the stories of our day – even if he nodded off to sleep occasionally before we were finished. Our Dad enjoyed his sleep almost as much as he enjoyed his food. He liked his nap after mealtimes, and we’d watch in great amusement as he’d nod off even before he’d left the table.
Our Dad loved his woodwork, and we’ll always associate him with the smell of fresh wood shavings. He’d relax in his workshop, creating things. He was also an organiser and creator of systems. Everything had its place; even his workshop was neat and tidy. He actually enjoyed creating rosters for the anaesthetics department at Wentworth Hospital. Dad was very particular, and had an aversion to anything sticky or out of place. Pictures had to hang perfectly straight on walls. For all that, Mom loved to recount how his own mother told her that, when she saw his scribbles on the walls as a child, she despaired of his spelling. He was always interested in how things worked, and would quiz us at table about all manner of things, trying to awaken our curiosity and hone our analytical skills.
Our Dad loved quoting the poetry that had been drummed into his head as a schoolboy, listening to music, and watching TV – Sewende Laan was his favourite. He loved the history of the Anglo-Boer war – he’d drag us off to battlefield sites in KwaZulu Natal and tell us the stories. He also loved biltong, Turkish delight and coconut-covered marshmallows. He loved fishing, especially with Oscar Willis, his best friend. It was such a delight to see the two of them together. They would giggle like kids.
He was shy and reserved when he was younger, so it was with a combination of delight and embarrassment that we watched him become so much more outgoing in his later years. He’d love to tease people, and had a wicked sense of humour. He had a nickname (often less than complimentary!) for almost everyone. He was the master of deliberate spoonerisms – his favourite was to ask the waitress for a ‘tot of pee’.
Church was always a very important part of his life. He was the Session Clerk for many years at Stella Presbyterian Church , and also served as an elder here at Stellenbosch United Church. He faithfully attended a men’s prayer meeting at Stella at some unearthly hour every Saturday morning. He and our Mom would read Scripture together every single day and he prayed for his family. He would pray for each of us, and our husbands and his grandchildren every single day, mentioning each one by name.
Dad liked being the rose among the thorns – he was so proud of his wife, three daughters and seven granddaughters. He accepted our husbands as sons, and thought the world of them. He was patient in the extreme, grateful , content, and generous to a fault. There is a verse our Mom often quotes, which really does describe him: “Better a patient man than a warrior; the one who controls his temper than he who takes a city”. He always, always wanted the very best for us. He was immensely proud of his children and grandchildren – sometimes embarrassingly so – but more than anything else, he loved us. And we will always be so grateful that he didn’t just assume we knew – he told us constantly. Thanks Dad. We love you too.
Latterly, he spoke often about how he was looking forward to seeing his departed loved ones again. We know that he is with them, and with the Lord. And, knowing Dad, he stopped on the way to quiz St Peter about the swing mechanism of the Pearly Gates, and he’s found a good place near the food at the heavenly banquet.