COURT HOUSE – “When you look back, you see how God worked it out,” Al Campbell said, during a virtual interview Sept. 10. From his home office, Campbell revealed a tapestry of providence, perseverance and new beginnings.
Armed with a camera and notepad, Campbell documented the happenings of the county he loves for over 30 years.
Faith and photography culminate in Campbell’s life, providing snapshots of a greater plan and the courage to move forward.
Born in 1949, Campbell entered the world four years after the end of World War II. His family relocated from Philadelphia to Court House, in 1952. Campbell’s father worked for a railroad company. He described his parents as devout Christians and grew up in the Episcopalian tradition.
Campbell said his fascination with photography began in his youth.
“My real start was in 1965,” Campbell explained.
At the time, Court House was a stop along a train route stretching from Cape May to Camden. A northbound train and gasoline truck collided, and a 16-year-old Campbell took pictures of the aftermath. He returned to his darkroom, in the attic, and developed the pictures.
He submitted the pictures to the Star and Wave, and the editor gave Campbell his first byline. The photographs made the front page.
“Without a relationship with the Lord, I do not see how it can be done,” Campbell said, referring to navigating life’s challenges.
Campbell joined the navy after graduating high school.
“I really wanted to be a photographer’s mate,” he said.
However, Campbell served in teletype relay while stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. Later, he served on a minesweeper vessel, traversing the Pacific Ocean. The sea taught Campbell a great lesson.
“It showed me the vastness of creation,” he recalled.
He described seeing waves at the height of “telephone poles” during a particular storm.
While he was in the Philippines, Campbell received word of his father’s death. As an only child, Campbell finished his service and returned home, in 1971. According to Campbell, his hopes for a naval career were “dashed.”
Campbell found himself at a crossroads. He visited the unemployment office, in Cape May. There, Campbell learned that the Wildwood Leader needed a camera person.
“It wasn’t what I thought it was,” Campbell explained, referring to the actual job when he arrived. Yet, owner John Sparrow stopped him from leaving and offered him the job.
“When one door closes, another opens,” Campbell said.
Aim and Shoot
Campbell married, in 1974, and settled into family life. He also transitioned to the Cape May County Gazette and took on news writing.
Yet, his editor and friend died during a fire, leaving Campbell stunned.
“It was a real jolt to my spirit,” he said.
Then, as a newly married man and father, one of his twin sons passed away. The unexpected became reality.
For a time, Campbell sold commercial marine hardware while taking pictures, during the summer, for Art Hall, an up-and-coming news publisher.
Campbell did not return immediately to the news industry. He took a position in advertising, in Erma.
“I’m not a salesman. The collection came hard,” Campbell confessed.
He eventually returned to the Cape May County Gazette and remained there for 8.5 years.
The news was Campbell’s world, but not the sum of it. On a spiritual journey, he left the Episcopalian church, in Villas, and prayed for guidance.
According to Campbell, the Holy Spirit led him to the First United Methodist Church, in Court House. He has served on several councils, helped in summer Vacation Bible Schools, and volunteered at the food pantry as a counselor.
Campbell landed at the Cape May County Herald, in 1988, only to learn the office burned down. Yet, Campbell began work Sept. 1 of that year. He informed county residents for 31 years.
In 2017, Campbell’s wife, Anna, passed away.
“I was living alone,” Campbell said, explaining the acute loneliness.
He prayed for help and another companion.
After a “chance meeting” in a car dealership waiting room, Campbell met June, in 2019. They married Jan. 11, 2020.
The experience “reinforced that God really cares about us,” said Campbell.
When asked how the rest of us can navigate hard times, Campbell said, “Be part of your faith community. God made us to live in community.”
He also encourages others to remember that God is in control.
Campbell reminded young parents not to allow the business of life to distract them from seeking God and reading the Bible.
“Don’t wait until you retire,” Campbell said.
Success is following God’s plan for your life, according to Campbell.
“Every prayer is answered, but not in our time or way. Take it in faith,” he concluded.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at email@example.com.