When Julia Campbell met her family in Hawaii in December 2005, she amazed everyone when she began speaking Tagalog to a Filipino market vendor.
Campbell had been practicing the native Filipino language since she left for her two-year Peace Corps mission there the previous spring. She learned the basics during the Peace Corps training and picked up the rest from host families and a private tutor she hired, said Linda Campbell, Julia’s mother.
"She knew what she wanted to do and she would make it happen — even as a little kid," said Linda Campbell. "And it served her well because she didn’t back down from things."
Less than two months before her two-year commitment to the Peace Corps was up, Julia Campbell’s body was discovered in a shallow grave, Wednesday, April 18, near Banaue town, in the Ifugao Province in the northern Philippines. The Philippine National Police confirmed that she died from multiple blows to the head, said Linda Campbell.
Julia Campbell, a Woodson High School graduate, wrote in her blog that she decided to "step out of the rat race of New York, join the Peace Corps and board a plane for Manila." She was very athletic, said Linda Campbell, so it wasn’t surprising to her that Julia was hiking in the hills. Linda Campbell thinks her daughter was probably taking one of her last opportunities before her Peace Corps time ended to hike to the Rice Terraces of Batad — the popular hand-carved terraces along the mountains that attract many tourists.
"It is considered a very safe area; it’s a tourist area," said Julia’s mother.
Linda Campbell and her daughter were very close. Since she left for the Peace Corps, they spoke on the phone at least once a week. When Julia Campbell was in the hospital last March, she spoke to her mother for hours every day.
"I miss talking to her," said Linda Campbell. "It was just fun to hear what was going on."
CAMPBELL WAS a journalist who began her career with a summer internship at the Connection Newspapers, sometime in the late 1980s, said Linda Campbell.
"She got interested in journalism because of her times there," she said.
Campbell had been a staff writer for People Magazine, and a full-time freelancer for the New York Times, said Linda Campbell. She covered crime in New York and saw some pretty horrible situations, she said.
"I never really worried about her; she could take care of herself," said Linda Campbell. "Once [children] become adults, you just let them fly."
And flying she was. After 9/11, Julia Campbell began volunteering in New York City, where she also lived and worked. She was affected by 9/11, more than Linda Campbell said she realized at the time. She thinks that is when volunteerism started to become so important to her daughter’s life.
Her love for Journalism and reporting remained throughout her life. While in the Philippines, she experienced a terrible typhoon and obtained permission from the Peace Corps to write about it for CNN. In her Saturday, Jan. 13, blog entry, she wrote that Typhoon Reming "dumped what some say was 40 years of rain in one day." Everyone in the city where she was living at the time, Legaspi, experienced a brush with serious injury, if not death, she wrote.
"For a few minutes there, as the flood waters rushed inside my little apartment on Marquez Street, I wondered, ‘Is this the way it’s going to be? I’ll drown right here inside my tiny apartment far away from my family and friends?" she wrote.
And while she did die far away from her family and friends, Linda Campbell said her daughter’s life was already complete. She said these last five years of volunteering and a successful journalism career were "probably the most important years of her life."
"Whatever she did beyond this, I’m not sure it would have been as fulfilling for her," said Linda Campbell.
When her Peace Corps duty was finished in June, Julia Campbell planned to return to New York to attend New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She was already awarded a Shriver Scholarship, named for R. Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps. But Linda Campbell said even the master’s degree and what might have follow it wouldn’t have likely been as special to her daughter as these years.
"It’s such a mother and father’s dream to see their children grow up and become who they can be," she said. "I’m just really proud that she made these big moves in her life."
Julia Campbell’s parents, Linda and Ron, visited her in the Philippines last August. It was the last time they saw their daughter, but they spent three wonderful weeks together, traveling and observing what she was accomplishing through her service there.
"I’ve got to hand it to my parents, Ron and Linda, for being good sports," she wrote in her blog, on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2006. "It’s not easy to come to a Third World country and now they will face flood and lava just to come see what I’ve been up to for the last 17 months … but at least they will get to experience a slice of my life here … ."
Ron and Linda Campbell met their daughter’s neighbors. The school where she worked welcomed her parents with lunch and a special "pageant," as Linda Campbell called it.
"I don’t think she knew the impact she was making," said Linda Campbell. "Her life is continuing to impact people. I’ve gotten more than 400 e-mails from people since she died."