Sunday, April 16, 2017

"One of the Good Ones" - Remembering Justice Archie Campbell

"Begin.  To begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished."

     Marcus Aurelius

It's hard to know where to begin with Archie Campbell, who died 10 years ago.
At the start of my legal career at Ontario's Superior Court, I was fortunate to have him as my mentor for a year.  I am not sure that I understood at first how lucky I was to serve as his judicial law clerk in 2001 - 2002.

Described as a "giant" in Ontario's legal world, Justice Campbell passed away on April 17, 2007.  A few highlights from his long list of accomplishments include his articles with legendary Canadian criminal lawyer G. Arthur Martin and working as colleague and advisor to then Attorney General and later Chief Justice Roy McMurtry.   He was a well respected jurist, who was also a substantial public figure as the leader of important public inquiries into the investigation of serial killer Paul Bernardo, see here, and later into Toronto's SARS crisis, see here.

But my initial impression of the man was really built on a lot of small observations.

He was very unpretentious.  In one of our first meetings, he nonchalantly put his feet up on his desk.  That seemed casual enough for anyone, let alone a senior judge.  But it also revealed his penchant for wearing a pair of Greb Kodiaks, sometimes even while presiding!

His office was filled with curios and interesting artifacts.  In particular, I noticed his chamber at Toronto's historic Osgoode Hall was festooned with stuffed owls.  I remember saying to him once that it seemed very appropriate, since groups of both judges and owls were known as "Parliaments".  He laughed appreciatively at the time, though I'm sure in retrospect he was well aware of the comparison.

Another thing I noticed in his office was a large computer printed sign, that read: "Be wise. Be Fair. Be Brief."  When I asked, he told me that motto was not just for judges, but applied to all legal writing.  At one point he also said that of the trio of statements, many in law seemed prone to forget the third, which was amongst the most important. 

As his clerk, I soon discovered that part of my job was to accompany him to court to watch proceedings.  Later, we would return to his office to discuss the law and whatever litigation was unfolding.  He was as open and generous in helping me as anyone I ever have met in the law.  I quickly grasped that my articles with him were going to be an incredible learning experience.

Justice Campbell seemed to enjoy life, all the more so when he could share it with friends and have some fun.  Down to earth and often plain spoken, a conversation with him could quickly reveal the breadth of his knowledge, intelligence and his eccentric, even whimsical sense of humour. Former judicial colleague James Farley noted that Campbell  was "an amazing analyst, as witness his SARS Report and a lovable fun incredible judge" and "a true and loyal friend".

Farley tells a story about how, for fun before eating meals together, Justice Campbell would sometimes "recite in Gregorian chant style a 30 second or so passage from the Rules of Civil Procedure (a page torn out of an obsolete copy )." Farley remembered that once a plumber, present in the house to make some repairs, witnessed the chant, took off his hat and bowed his head to show respect. 

When Farley and Campbell explained to the tradesman the ceremony was all in fun, "the fellow could not wait to tell his wife the story, but he wasn't certain that his wife would believe him. Easily fixed - Archie gave him the Rules page we had been reciting."

Campbell also loved literature and history.  His wide-range of friends included the CBCs Michael Enright who noted, in this 2007 Globe and Mail tribute, that Campbell often quoted poetry and classics.   A favourite, that I heard more than once during my time with him, were famous remarks from Marcus Aurelius, "in the vernacular", as he would qualify his inevitable quotations.  In my own experience Justice Campbell could recite these passages, from memory, without preparation.

Another of Campbell's favourite subjects was the American Civil War.  I remember once he stopped a meeting for 10 minutes to talk to a Commissionaire who came to the door of his office.  Apparently, it was the anniversary of Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry ride completely around Union forces.  By way of explanation afterwards he told me the man was an American history buff.

It just so happened that, at the time, I was reading a classic volume on that conflict.  When I told him, and talked about some of the details of the battle, I could tell by his look that he was as impressed by that as anything I might have said about the law up to that point.   

The truth was that Campbell always seemed to make an effort to engage meaningfully with those around him.  Early on in our association, he took time to ask details about my experiences teaching literacy in Kingston Penitentiary, as an undergraduate Queen's student in the 1980s.  It never occurred to me to ask why he was interested.  Only later did I find out that he too had taught with the same literacy organization, Frontier College, in hydro and railway labour camps in the summers, up in northern Ontario.

And the interest Campbell showed in my background seemed part of a curiosity that he had about all kinds of people.  That Civil War buff that Campbell had stopped to talk to was no exception, and he had a distinct way of connecting with people.  When I would tell staff at the courthouse that I was articling for him, they had nothing but praise and genuine affection for the man.  He was "one of the good ones" they would say.

It's a challenge to capture the essence of any person in only a few words, let alone someone so accomplished.    He was my formal mentor for a year, but for years after continued to offer his advice and guidance, along with his good humour, whenever I needed it.  To this day, I value his collegiality, and he remains one of my professional role models.  The fact he passed away in 2007, at a relatively young age, was a tremendous loss.

It's also hard to know where to end with Archie Campbell.  However, one particular quote from Marcus Aurelius always makes me think of him - "waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be.  Be one."  Archie Campbell was a doer, who tried to be as good a lawyer, judge and man as anyone. 

To me he will always be "one of the good ones".


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