Tommy Campbell overcame enormous challenges early in life to become a rock and roll drummer, husband, father, and grandfather, beloved by many. Music and time was the theme for his celebration of life service.
As I entered the funeral home chapel, I overheard a man say, “Tommy played the cards life dealt him, and he always had a smile on his face.”
Some background, from the obituary written by his wife, Gidget:
Thomas McKay Campbell, 59, died at home in Albuquerque October 1st, 2010 due to complications from post-polio syndrome. Born February 6th, 1951, in Houston, he was stricken with both paralytic and bulbar forms of polio at the age of 13 months, and was never expected to survive the disease. Tommy credited his parents, Charles and Carolyn Campbell, for raising him to be as self-sufficient as his condition would allow.
Doctors said he would never live past infancy, go to school, or live a “normal” life. He didn’t. He defied all medical odds, surviving the initial onslaught of polio, and was poster child 1954-55 for the Easter Seal Campaign in Harris County, TX. As part of his physical therapy, his parents got his first drum set at age 12.
In 1970, “TC” graduated from Sam Rayburn High in Pasadena, TX, grew his hair to his waist, and hit the road as a rock and roll drummer throughout the Gulf Coast area for the next 20 years. Often performing in body casts and braces, he worked with several popular bands during his career, including: Music Convention; Liberty; Liberty Bros., and the Bird Dogs.
He, with the Liberty Bros., recorded the first album ever produced at Gilley’s Studio in Pasadena and opened for, or performed with, a wide range of artists in the Houston area. Johnny Lee, Mickey Gilley, David Allen Coe, Bloodrock, and Nazareth are among them. His band auditioned to open for that Little Ole Band from Texas, Z Z Top, on their first national tour, but promoters were hesitant to book another trio.
He met Gidget Giffen in Nacogdoches, TX and they married in 1975, making League City their first home together. Of all Tommy’s incredible and unlikely accomplishments, he was proudest of his sons, Larry and David. In 1983 the family moved to Albuquerque, and declining health forced his retirement from the music business. He joyfully changed his title from Drummer to Dad, and become a full time father, active in school activities with his boys.
Per his request, Campbell was cremated, “so the geeks won’t be a’gawkin’ at me after I’m gone.” Only those who came of age in the 1970s would know this is a reference from one of the Firesign Theater comedy albums that were so popular during that decade.
The setting for the service included a tableau with Tommy’s drum set, with his ashes in an urn on the seat in front – a salute to the fact that the drummer is usually located at the back of the band. His band’s album, “No Time Lasts Forever,” was displayed on a music stand, along with a toy bear and a life-sized cutout of the ZZ Top trio. A harpist played The Beatles’ “Across the Universe.”
Among the bouquets of flowers was a large array of yellow roses in a milky white vase. The yellow rose was special in Tommy and Gidget’s relationship, which started with a bouquet of yellow roses that she sent to him. He sent her a single yellow rose every Valentine’s Day.
The speakers included Cindy Brinkley, Tommy’s sister, and his sons, Larry and David. Cousins in Alabama sent letters to be read at the service. Attendees were invited to get up and add to the remembrances of Tommy Campbell. All expressed love and admiration for a kind, loving, upbeat man who brought music into many people’s lives.
Gidget’s baby sister got up and talked about meeting Tommy when she was 13, and said he was a kind, loving big brother. She said he confided to her that with his long hair, he could get away with using the ladies restroom because it was a lot cleaner than the mens room. One time they were going to the store and having a hard time finding a parking space. She suggested they use the handicapped parking sticker on his car, but he was loathe to use it, saying, “We might get caught.”
A moving photo-montage traced Tommy’s life span, and a duo of vocalist and cello player performed a song that he wrote. The refrain was so appropriate:
“It’s a song about life. It’s a song about death. It’s a song about loving and giving your very best.”
At the end, the family and attendees went outside to witness the release of a white dove, symbolic of the spirit rising to heaven, and of letting his spirit go. The immediate family touched the dove before it was released. As it circled up and out of sight, Gidget called out, “So long TC! Rock and roll heaven!”
Before adjourning to the reception at the funeral home, Cindy Brinkley confided that the Campbell clan has always been a bit different. She said that her mom was always late for everything, so when she died, they made her late for her own funeral. But, she said, “She got us back. When we went to take her to the cemetery, the hearse had a flat, and we had to wait for the tire to be changed.”
Everyone received a burgundy wristband imprinted with the word “Journey,” because life is not so much about the destination as it is about the journey. I wear it to every funeral and memorial service I attend during this 30 Day Challenge. May the memory of Tommy Campbell live on.