Elizabeth Campbell, 1902-2004

Elizabeth Campbell, 1902-2004

Born in 1902 near Winston-Salem, N.C., Margaret Elizabeth Pfohl was one of six children raised by her parents in the Moravian Church, stressing education and faith.

Pfohl graduated from Salem College, earned a master’s degree at Columbia University and by age 26 was dean of Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va. At the unveiling of a portrait of trustee Henry Donald Campbell, Pfohl met his son Edmund, an attorney and a widower. The two were married in June 1936, moving to Arlington with his son and daughter.

In 1947, Elizabeth Campbell won a seat on the Arlington School Board, the only woman elected to a school board seat in Virginia. She sat on the board until 1963.

During the same period, Byrd and other Virginia Democrats then in power vowed to oppose efforts to integrate Virginia public schools with “Massive Resistance,” following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

That same year, Campbell and her colleagues on the school board voted 3-2 to open Arlington schools to black students, with aims of opening integrated schools in 1956.

Following that decision, the General Assembly took away the county’s right to elect its school board members. Over the next two years, Ed Campbell successfully argued against the state opposition to integration in federal court, and he and Elizabeth formed the Save Our Schools Committee, dedicated to supporting integration.

In February 1959, two and a half years after Campbell and her colleagues tried to open all Arlington schools to black and white students, Stratford Junior High School (now H.B. Woodlawn Secondary School) accepts its first black students.

As a couple, Ed and Elizabeth Campbell were a grounding presence for each other throughout their marriage, said Sue Richmond. “They were always teasing each other, telling stories about each other.”

While the integration fight was taking shape, Elizabeth Campbell also joined the board of the Greater Washington Educational Television Association, a group made up of area public and private schools and universities. In 1957, she became president of the group.

Campbell secured grants from the Ford and Meyer foundations that paid for the program “Time For Science,” which aired on WTTG from 1958 to 1961.

In 1961, GWETA, the precursor to WETA, petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for the license to broadcast on UHF channel 26.

“She worked within institutions for education, and she created an institution to do that,” said Richmond.

In 1964, she hired John Robbins, a fifth-grade teacher in Prince George’s, to teach language arts on the air as WETA’s first “studio teacher.”

In 1957, the public television station aired its first color broadcast, Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s state of the union address, and in 1970, WETA FM begins broadcasting.

As the channels established themselves, Campbell drummed up funding around the Washington region. In 1971, she stepped down as WETA’s president to become vice president for community affairs, a position she held until her death.

Fundraising became a full-time job for anyone who knew her.

“One day I was down at WETA, and I got lost,” said Jim Laughlin, a St. Peter’s parishioner. “Suddenly, I heard this voice: ‘Jimmy? We need someone to raise money.’ I said, ‘That’s not why I’m here.’ She said, ‘But you can do it.’”

In 1987, the General Assembly honored Campbell with House Joint Resolution 345, and she was awarded an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Edmund, who died in 1995; and by their son, the Rev. Edmund Campbell Jr. She is survived by daughter Virginia Campbell Holt, of Phoenix, Az.; two sons, the Rev. Benjamin Campbell of Richmond and Donald Campbell of Arlington; eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Memorial services were held Tuesday, Jan. 13, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and Elizabeth Campbell is buried today, Wednesday, Jan. 14, in Winston-Salem, N.C.