“If everything is under control you’re not moving fast enough.”
—race car driver Mario Andretti
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“I’d like to talk to you about a job,” the caller said.
It was a fast-paced day at the newspaper office in the Northeast Texas community of Naples. I had answered the phone cradling the receiver between my shoulder and my neck to talk while working on a stack of stories still needing my attention. Pausing long enough to get past the surprise of a job offer just out of the blue, I stopped typing and took the phone in my hand to reply. “I appreciate the thought, Rick. But I kind of … already have a job. I bought a newspaper.”
Undaunted by obvious challenges as he always was, Rick quickly fired back, “I know, but I’d like to at least talk to you.” Maybe to be polite, and because Rick was an old friend, I told him I would be in Center Thursday or Friday and would give him a call.
Rick Campbell and I became friends during my first stint in Center as editor and publisher at The Light and Champion in the 1980s. The Center native with seven generations of Shelby County family before him and I worked together on community and civic endeavors. But honestly, anyone who met Rick would be his friend before the conversation was over. He was quick to make friends that way.
The talk he called about happened and it included a tour of the Portacool manufacturing facility in Center. Not a walking tour of the plant that is eight acres under one roof. Not even a golf cart tour like the ones I often provided guests and business associates during the 14 years I was employed there.
Rick’s tour was in his truck. He began telling me about the business he and Fred Wulf launched in 1990 as he drove toward the company’s manufacturing plant located just north of the city. He was still talking when he drove right up into the building. Maybe he slowed down a little; I don’t recall. My eyes were closed for fear we were going to hit something or someone, and I didn’t want to see it. Twisting and turning through the vast complex, pointing out every facet of the production process, he exited the building just as he had entered it. On the move and still talking about Portacool.
That day set the pace for many trips I would make with Rick working trade shows or attending Portacool sponsored auto racing events as marketing director for the international company. Rick’s enthusiasm and approach to life matched his driving speed and his love for race cars. “Slow down” was not in his vocabulary.
“We’ll take my truck to the airport,” he said one morning as we walked out of the office behind schedule to catch a flight in Shreveport. Knowing there was no way we would get there on time, I mumbled something about another flight in an hour or so. “No problem,” he responded as the city limits sign rapidly disappeared behind us. Turns out he was right. We made the flight with five minutes to spare and with my knuckles solid white from grabbing anything I could find to hang on to.
Some color was returning when we landed in Dallas for the connecting flight. That was when I learned Rick’s pace for walking through airports matched everything else in his life. Catching my breath after boarding, I paused to reflect on how I thought that no one could walk faster than me. I was wrong.
I also thought I knew Rick Campbell before working for Portacool. But the Rick I came to know in the years that followed that phone call was one who lived life at a pace faster than anyone I had met. Quick to make the next friend, quick to get to the next destination, quick to live the next adventure, quick to help anyone who needed it, quick to care about those around him.
Walking (rapidly) through the Atlanta airport on one of the last trips we made before he sold the company he helped found, I laughed and called ahead to him, “Slow down, enjoy life.” He looked back with a smile and replied, “Life wouldn’t be as much fun if it was slower.” For him, I think he was right.
I don’t know if Rick ever met Mario Andretti, but I would not be surprised to learn that he did. He knew just about everyone else.
Rick Campbell lived at a fast pace, and he left too soon at just 62. But his love for life in the fast lane and the things he was quick to do for others will not quickly be forgotten.
Photo at top of the page: Rick Campbell (left) during the time he served as president of the company he helped found, Regional Manager Ramon Garcia (center), and Senior Vice President Bill Lloyd (right) who served as president and CEO after Rick sold the company. —Photo credit: “PORTACOOL – Building an American company 1990-2015″)
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