Marty Campbell was the kind of guy everyone loved.
“He was the kind of person who brought light into whatever space he was in with his warmth, his smile and his kindness,” said Lisa Goldberg, who taught in the social science department with Campbell at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. “Marty was like the ‘universal donor’ in that there was some way he could connect with almost anyone. I wish you could have known him — he would have dazzled you.”
Campbell, 29, died May 17 from lymphoma, a diagnosis he received last December. He is survived by his fiancé, Jayson Steere; his father, James (Doris) Campbell of Garnerville, NY; his mother, Mary Leahy of Stony Point, NY; two brothers, James W. Campbell Jr. of Stony Point, NY and Brian T. (Maria) Campbell of Fort Montgomery, NY; a stepbrother, Jeff Abrams of Stony Point, NY; a stepsister, Cathy (Thomas) Cooney of Point Pleasant, NJ and numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Campbell taught global studies and sociology at C-NS for six years, including the school’s Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA) Sociology class, for which students could get college credit. Campbell had to be trained specially by SU for the class and lobbied hard to bring it to C-NS. He also served as co-advisor to the Class of 2012, a class that has already lost two of its graduating seniors —Taylor Fleming, who died in a car accident in December, and Miranda Merola, who died unexpectedly at home in February of 2010 during her sophomore year.
“Marty was an energetic and engaging teacher,” said C-NS Interim Principal Melissa Julian. “When I observed him earlier in the school year, much like his students, I found myself immersed in the material and the content which isn’t always easy for students to grasp when working with the past. More importantly, though, was Marty’s willingness to listen and respect his students. He treated them as adults and was always willing to give up his time to help them however he could.”
Fellow teacher Michele Fletcher agreed.
“He was so generous with his time and his love,” Fletcher said. “The Social Studies Department knew he was special, but to see the outpouring of love by the entire building over these six months of his illness brought our school together in a very special way. He will be remembered by many as a wonderful educator, caring teacher and special friend.”
Chelsea Ryan, who had Campbell five years ago, wrote on his memorial page that he was he was “the most accepting, warm, loving, caring man I ever met.”
“You were the most amazing teacher and person I have ever met in my life,” Ryan wrote. “You helped my best friend and I through a lot that year… you would stay with us after class and after school and just talk to us about whatever needed to be talked about, global-related or not. You let us sit next to each other in your class that entire year, with never a second guess, because you knew we didn’t ‘fit in’ with the kids in our class. You are a brilliant man… You were so kind to me and you always knew just what to say to lighten the mood. You were a spectacular teacher… not many students remember teachers 10-plus years down the road, but you, most of your students or students that came in contact with you remember full conversations with you, and will continue to remember you and your conversations for the rest of their lives. That is the kind of person I wish I could be…the kind of person that is remembered for their decency and kindness. You are forever in my heart, as well as many, many others’. You were one of a kind, Marty Campbell.”
A number of students expressed similar sentiments, which teacher Melissa Sisco shared while eulogizing Campbell on May 22. The high school closed that day so that students and staff could attend services for the beloved teacher. A few examples of the students’ thoughts include:
“I love you Campbell. I will never forget you and will forever have you in my heart and soul.”
“I told him everything, and he was one of the best listeners. Whenever I needed advice, he was the first one I went to. There is no counting how many hearts he touched, but I know mine has been changed forever because of him. I hope that one day I can be just like him, changing one person’s life at a time, just like he changed mine.”
“He has opened my eyes and changed my perspective on many things. I can’t describe in words how great of a person he was. I know he wouldn’t want any of us to be sad that he’s gone but remember him for all the great silly times we had together.”
“He touched more lives in six years than most people can in 30,” Sisco said. “Every day with Marty was a happy day.”
Indeed, his colleagues loved him as much as his students did. Campbell acted as a union representative for the school district and often brought his own baked goods in to share with his department. He organized Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks through the district annually, and he often chaperoned events and field trips.
Campbell also went beyond that to help other teachers who might have been struggling.
“Marty was so much more than a colleague to me. He was one of my best friends,” said Shannon Brisson. “When I started teaching at C-NS four years ago, Marty took me under his wing. He was my unofficial mentor. I never had to ask him for help; he was also checking in to make see if I needed help with lesson plans, grading or one of the other tasks that can seem so overwhelming to a first-year teacher. He did all of this without expecting anything in return, and he never gave off the impression that he was doing me a favor. We were just friends.”
Campbell’s friendliness with his colleagues extended outside the classroom, as well.
“He was one of the best people I’ve ever met,” said fellow teacher David Babikian. “The thing I will miss most about Marty is his warm inviting smile that made you know he was a good guy to be around. Another colleague put it best by saying that it might not be as hard if he wasn’t such a huge part of our social lives as well. He loved to throw parties and be the life of the party.”
But Campbell’s greatest love, aside from his partner, Jayson, and his family, was being in the classroom and helping his students.
“He loved opening the hearts and minds of young people to the wider world around them,” Brisson said. “And that is his legacy. He made people think differently about their world. He made them realize that they could take a larger role in society. So many of his students want to or are currently becoming teachers. Others are seeking careers in sociology or other social sciences. But even students who sought careers in other fields were forever changed by him. Mr. Campbell was more than a teacher to them; he was a counselor, a mentor and a friend.”
Julian agreed that Campbell left a legacy to which all teachers should aspire.
“I believe Marty’s greatest gift was the students who he inspired to go into teaching,” she said. “There were more than I realized and that is a true testament to anyone who teaches; if you can inspire others to carry on the tradition of what you love, that’s a great legacy to leave behind.”
Goldberg reflected on the sheer luck that C-NS was able to benefit from Campbell’s light.
“He could have landed at any school, but he landed with us,” she said. “He spent his short professional life with us. And we are the beneficiaries of his legacy — a legacy of service, kindness, compassion and love. The best way to honor Marty is for us to be kinder, more generous and more loving. He blessed us with his life, and we have been changed for the better. The hole his loss has left is palpable.”
Julian, who only met Campbell in September when she joined C-NS’s administrative team, said she was just grateful she’d gotten to have the young teacher in her life at all.
“I just think that I’m a better person for having Marty in my life, even though it was for such a short time,” Julian said. “As one teacher told me, Marty was a part of the C-NS fabric and he will be greatly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.