By Rick Davenport
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
The resume of Dr. C. David Campbell reads like some incredible work of fiction: Physician, pilot, councilmember, mayor, scuba diver, board president, church leader, military veteran, philanthropist, senior aviation medical examiner, high school team doctor for 37 years and winner of the 2014 Aviator of the Year Award. He even has an airport named after him.
But, try to talk to Campbell (his friends call him Dr. Dave) about some of his accomplishments, and he’ll modestly change the focus. Instead, he talks about the people he had the good fortune to meet during his 84 years, and simply says “I have been blessed,” as if he were an unwitting bystander.
So, in order to realize the impact Campbell made on aviation and his community, you have to talk to the people who know him.
“Dr. Dave has been able to accomplish so many things for Corsicana and its airport because he takes on every project with determination and guts,” says FBO operator Gary Farley, who also has a successful aircraft maintenance and inspection business. Farley gives Campbell the credit for getting him started 18 years ago.
In addition to running a family practice that would span five decades, Campbell’s love affair with aviation began when he was a teenager, in Crowell, Texas. His father was a wheat farmer and cattle rancher, who bought a Piper Cub, and later a Cessna 172, to help with business. Campbell, who wanted to be a doctor ‘since I can remember,’ learned to fly and instantly fantasized about combining both passions.
“A small plane was not only useful in locating lost cattle and chasing away the sandhill cranes that would eat the wheat crop, I realized that during duck season I could easily find where the birds were roosting,” he said with a grin.
After medical school and two years in the Air Force as a flight surgeon, Campbell joined his brother and several other physicians to form a medical clinic in Corsicana. By the time he retired, Campbell’s patients often included five generations of the same family.
“There are only two professions that allow you to become intimately involved with a family: a pastor and a physician. It was a privilege, and I loved it,” Campbell said.
When he was nearing retirement, Campbell donated a lot of his medical equipment to an acute care facility in Mexico, restored an historic airport building near the terminal and moved his practice there, mainly to conduct aviation physicals. But his regular patients kept coming, too.
One of those long-time patients was Terry Franks, Corsicana’s director of Public Works, who Campbell delivered 57 years ago.
“One day while I was getting a check-up, Dr. Dave heard a plane land on the runway. He got me and all the other patients to come outside and talked the stunt pilot into performing various acrobatic maneuvers for us,” Franks says. “Dr. Dave has accomplished so much. I simply don’t know how one person can squeeze all of that in.”
Campbell arrived in Corsicana in 1957, and soon became involved in civic activities. He was elected to the city council, and later as mayor.
Throughout his career on the council, he had a keen interest in the city’s airport, where ‘there’s always something to be done.’ Campbell, known for his determination, would simply find a way to accomplish various goals, although finding the money for airport improvements, especially in those days, was not easy.
“Dr. Dave led the effort to get bond issues approved for a terminal and a new runway,” Farley says. “He was able to keep the airport viable. Next to his family and his practice, aviation is his favorite thing in the world. Many of the improvements here would have never happened had it not been for him.”
So, in 1985, during the dedication of its new terminal building, the city renamed the municipal airport ‘C. David Campbell Field’ — which was kept a secret from Campbell until the dedication ceremony unveiled a plaque with his name on it.
“It was a great day, and well deserved,” Carolyn Pass, one of Campbell’s daughters recalls. She and her two siblings, and even her mother, all became licensed pilots, at her father’s urging. “We always had a plane growing up. That’s how we traveled,” she said. One of her fondest memories includes having her father “doctor” his young patients baby dolls that became ill.
Daughter Chari Hust remembers her dad flying her to Texas Tech when she began her freshman year. “I learned so many things about human compassion from my father,” she says. “Every morning, dad called his patients that were having a birthday that day. He did that every day, and still does.”
Campbell retired from his medical practice in 2009. “It was a sad day,” Campbell says. “But there is a time for everything.”
But he remains active in aviation, still serving as chairman of the airport advisory board.
“I still have my health, so I can do those things. I am a blessed man,” he says.