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Lessons learned at the end of a paddle

It’s been said that first impressions are the most lasting. If that’s the case, then my level of respect was through the roof the first time I locked eyes with Henry Jacob “Jake” Campbell.

After two relatively easy years – discipline wise – at Northampton County High School, things took a big turn entering my junior year. There was a “new Sheriff in town” – our new principal, Mr. Campbell. With his rugged jaw, seemingly like it was set in concrete, and his closely cropped hair – making him take on the appearance of a Marine Drill Sergeant – Jake Campbell wasn’t about making a fashion statement, but rather commanding respect from day one.

It didn’t take very long into my junior year to “feel” the level of his discipline.

In between fourth and fifth periods one day, I – along with other males – darted into the bathroom to satisfy our nicotine craving. About halfway through my smoke, my English teacher – Rev. Randolph Phillips – walked in. We all quickly tossed our cigarettes into the urinals hanging from the wall. Magically, I was the only one caught and sent to Mr. Campbell’s office.

“Three licks or three days,” was the stone-cold greeting I received from my principal.

Knowing all too well what level of punishment waited at home had I chosen the three days, I settled for the immediate discipline. Mr. Campbell produced a long paddle with small holes bored into the wood and instructed me to bend over a chair. The initial lick wasn’t so bad, leaving me to think that my dad’s belt on my bottom end was worse. However, number two and three came in quick succession, stinging blows that left me fighting back the tears.

I slowly made my way to my next class – Geometry with Miss Nell Martin. I approached my desk, and wasn’t eager to sit down.

“Calvin, I assume you have been in Mr. Campbell’s office,” Miss Martin inquired.

“Yes mam,” I replied.

“Okay, you can stand along the back wall,” she said.

I did….for the entire 60-minute class.

I never smoked in the bathroom again.

But there was another side to Jake Campbell. Later, the same year, ironically in Rev. Phillips’s class, he instructed us to write a one-page theme paper on the disadvantages of being left-handed. Well, as a southpaw, I couldn’t think of any, and my paper reflected that thought. I received an “F.”

After class, I share that info with Mr. Campbell. He agreed with my assessment that the assignment made by Rev. Phillips bordered on discrimination. The next day, Rev. Phillips asked me to write a theme paper on the dangers of smoking (what a convenient topic!!). I obliged….he gave me a “D” for my efforts; but my respect and admiration for Jake Campbell was cemented for life.

Mr. Campbell remained at Northampton High (later named Northampton-East) long, long after I graduated in 1971. Our paths would cross again in the early to mid-1990’s at which time I was the sports editor of this newspaper and he – after retiring from public education – became the Headmaster at Northeast Academy. I reminded him of the lessons learned back during my days at NCHS, as well as the story about Rev. Phillips. Even though he was a man of few words, I could sense a high level of mutual respect.

Jake Campbell passed away on Thursday of last week, but not before impacting the lives of those fortunate enough to spend some time with him….to include all those he coached in girls tennis at Northeast Academy from 1995-2018.

What we all learned about Jake Campbell was that despite his tough, “poker face” exterior, the heart of a loving, Christian man beat inside his chest.

Thank-you, Mr. Campbell, for the lessons of life you shared. May you rest in peace.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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