“Once you learn the truth, it doesn’t change; it doesn’t flip around like worldly reasonings. Once you learn what God requires of you, just do it.” That was Mac Campbell’s reasoning, and nobody can ever say that he didn’t “just do it.” Unique even among Jehovah’s Witnesses, he died last week at age 85. He and I had kept up over the years, so I was there for the funeral. Surely, the verse was true of him:
“a name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born. Better is it to go to the house of mourning than to go to the banquet house, because that is the end of all mankind; and the one alive should take [it] to his heart.” (Ecces 7:1) On his day of his death, Mac’s record is his. No one can take it from him.
Mac specialized in a type of ministry rare these days - “street work.” Not the type of street work where you approach passersby, but the type where you just stand there and they (ideally) approach you. A couple dozen years ago the JW organization started to discourage that type of witnessing. Don’t just stand there like a sign post, they’d say, what can you possibly accomplish by that? Sure enough, two or three times I’d gone downtown and just stood there like a sign post. After a time, I began to feel like one. People would whiz by you - did you even exist? But when I endeavored to move and mingle and approach people - the ministry, though a bit more stressful, became both enjoyable and productive.
Still, Mac made a success of the old style street work. He did it because he was always there. Ever immaculate in appearance, he staked out a position on Main Street and made it his own. They’ve since boarded up that abandoned doorway - I don’t know what he’d do now - but he’d been off the streets for several years, incapacitated by poor health. He was as much a fixture as any Rochester landmark. Businesspeople would eye him a dozen times or so, eavesdrop, note that he was amiable, dignified, in no way a screwball, and would end up chatting regularly. He’d spend all day speaking with people.
Probably that’s how he caught quirky Bob Lonsberry’s attention. Bob is a radio fixture here, and was once a fixture of the newspapers. He wrote about Mac in his “Real People” series back in July of 1992: [nobody was more real than Mac] “In friendly conversation, Malcolm is hard to reject. He is commanding of respect; he’s dignified. He is 68, married 45 years and a grandfather of 18, [he took Gen 1:28 -be fruitful and become many and fill the earth - seriously, the funeral speaker pointed out.] coming back from a stroke last year.”
His manner, speech and appearance were the match of the most prominent businesspersons, with whom he frequently spoke. They would have been amazed had they known his modest circumstances. They would have been more amazed had they known it was by design. Mac worked part-time in basic blue collar-type work, which provided enough so that the majority of time was his, and that was all he asked. Even among us, who constantly hear the virtue of simplification, few have the combination of faith and capability to simplify to that extent, particularly while raising a family. Yet, spending time with Mac made it seem quite doable and reasonable, and you began to wonder why you weren’t doing it also.
He was a frugal kind of guy. There he was, having run across this fellow who had built his own furnace from scratch, going on and on about it. Why would anyone do that? his pal responded - just call a furnace guy. But Mac was always impressed with those who could make do. Wasn’t it he who defined (in 1982) the phrase “keeping up with the Jones?” It was “spending money you don’t have, to buy things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like.” He had that green Volare - he must have driven that 100 years. One day, stopping by, there were two of them in his driveway. Identical. Same color and all. One was for parts. “You probably paid more for those shoes than I did for this car,” he told a visitor. Sure enough, the shoes had cost more.
If that impresses me, it’s because it is a quality I don’t have. Alas, with some justification Mrs Sheepandgoats has accused me of living the motto “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it is broke, don’t fix it.” I’m not especially handy, which makes me appreciate guys who are.
Mac was also a put-together guy, again, something I am not. He told of one fellow who would pat his shirt pocket just once to find his pen. If it wasn’t there, he didn’t have it. He wouldn’t pat down his shirt pocket, then his pants pockets, then his coat pockets, then do it all over again, then pull stuff out of all pockets to make sure, like I would do. No. He was organized. There was only one place that pen could possibly be. Mac, too, had that sort of organization.
And he wouldn’t blow his horn. On the mean streets of Rochester, where people routinely block traffic so they can kibitz with their pals - not in the snooty suburbs, where “such things just aren’t done” - but in the city where they are done all the time, Mac wouldn’t blast his horn to break up the jam. “Daddy, just blow your horn,” his daughter would say, “that’s what people do.” But Mac wouldn’t. “You never know when you are the last straw,” he’d observe.
He kind of hoped - in vain, as it turned out - that his own funeral would not be a big deal. “Just put me in a pine box and lay me down quietly,” he’d say. "Don’t make a fuss over me.“ He was troubled that his death would inconvenience people, make them take a day off work, and such. (Indeed, for a time, funerals did get out of hand, with some high-profile people filling up the whole assembly hall, but I think that is not done anymore) “Mac, it’s not for you, it’s for us,” a friend retorted. “You’ll be asleep. We’re the ones who’ll be comforted by it.” He smiled, in the way that Mac did. That was the only answer that could have prevented him from going on and on.
I served with him once in one of the congregations, and had more or less kept up with him since, visiting him at home a few lengthy times, and always seeking him out at conventions. “You going to visit me again?” he asked at the last convention. “It depends on if you’ll give me a beer,” I responded. Mac was hospitable, and he liked beer. “I’ll give you a whole case,” he replied.
Six months later, in one of those strange convergences that you don’t quite know what to make of afterwards, I was mentioning to my wife how I was going to pop in for a visit - I brought the subject up several times. But I was too late. Next meeting they announced that he’d passed away.
I’ll probably hear about it upon his resurrection.
More in the Afterword of Tom Irregardless and Me "Black Mack, Slow Joe and Davey the Kid"