Campbell, Vera

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                                 VERA CAMPBELL WAS ‘A FRIEND INDEED’
                                         by Kelley Delano


A couple of weeks ago, the Miramichi became just a little bit darker by the extinguishing of one of its brightest candles. Vera Campbell passed away.

Before she became ill, Vera was a tireless volunteer and service club member in the community, as well as an active member of her church. If there was a friend in need, you could bet Vera would be one of the first at the door, offering to help any way she could. I'm sure because of all the friends she made during a long, full life there are a thousand stories that could be told about Vera. I'd like to share one of mine.

As kids, our mornings for the first week of summer vacation were always set aside for bible school; a week of crafts, bible study and organizing a concert for our parents. One of my first real memories of Vera was the year we asked her to play piano for our parents' concert. The lady who had played for us the summer before was kind to have done it, but she was very uptight when it came to what she considered was "appropriate" for church. She wouldn't play anything with a quick beat, or anything particularly jubilant. Church was a place to be very serious.

As kids, we ranged in ages from six to 13 years. We didn't care what was appropriate. All we knew was we wanted to do the best show could for our parents, and we wanted to have fun doing it. Vera seemed to understand that. I don't remember exactly what songs we sang, but I do remember the fun we had learning and rehearsing them. And - in the middle of it all - Vera seemed to be having the most fun of all. If the key was too high for some of us to reach, she'd bring it down. If the song was too slow or too serious, she'd jazz it up. Anything to keep us all interested.

There's the "right" way and there's Vera's way

As we rehearsed, some of the adult helpers had us line up shoulder-to-shoulder, tallest in back, shortest in front. They told us ladies to fold our hands in front of our waists. Gentlemen were to clasp their hands behind their backs. Needless to say, neither position was a particularly comfortable one in which to stand or sing. Vera soon realized this and, clucking her tongue, shooed the helpers away. "Relax," she said, "and sway with the music. Clap if it helps you keep time." And that's what we did. The difference in the sound was very obvious. We were having fun with the song - and at the same time, we were singing it far better.

The evening of the closing, we were all gathered at the front of the church, watching our family and friends take their seats in the pews. One of the adult helpers intervened again with the admonition that clapping was not appropriate for church - and we should stand up straight like little ladies and gentlemen. You could see the shoulders sag. We had worked so hard, and were so happy with the way we were performing the songs during rehearsal, we didn't want to change a thing. Vera waited until the adults' backs were turned, gave us a big grin, and whispered loudly, "I don’t know about you guys, but I liked it just as it was."

That's all it took

That was all it took. When she started playing the piano, we let loose and shook the rafters of that church like they'd never been shook before. Clapping and a swaying, we gave our all, and Vera had that old piano vibrating. Before long, much to the chagrin of a certain few, the audience was clapping along with us. From where I was standing on the raised platform, I could just see over the top of the piano to Vera's face. When we finished our first song, she took a couple of tissues and dabbed at her forehead. She was playing so enthusiastically, she was actually perspiring. But she was grinning from ear to ear.

I think that's what I'll remember most about her: Her love of music. After the concert, a few of the fogeys were still grumbling about the clapping and "taking God out of the church". Vera never missed a beat. She walked right up to the men and asked them to take a real good look at the faces of the kids who had just come off of the raised platform. "Look how excited and happy they are," she said. "They did nothing wrong gentlemen." And then she proceeded to quote Psalms: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord." I can still see the open mouths of those men, and the way Vera simply dismissed them as she strode past them. That was that.

And yes, Vera came back and played for us the next year too.

So the Miramichi is a little sadder and a little quieter now. But I'm sure that in Heaven somewhere there are group of angels gathered around an old upright piano, swaying and clapping and singing their hearts out.

We'll miss you, Vera.


Source: Miramichi Leader – March 21, 2003

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