Ethel Victoria Leslie-Campbell,
nicknamed Birdie by her family, but ‘Queen Bee’ by her students, was royal in bearing, regal in deportment and always stylishly dressed. While not of the manor born, there could be no question that she was a lady of class. In conversation and lifestyle she demonstrated a deft mixture of confidence, composure and humility in all circumstances.
Born on July 31, 1917 in Haddo Westmoreland she was the daughter of Isaac Leslie businessman and Jane Leslie housewife. When she came of age to go to school the Haddo School, the land of which her grandfather had given to the Board of Education was closed temporarily, so she went to school at Coke’s View All Age which was three miles away and remained there even when the Haddo School was re-opened. She told the story, with some a mischievous twinkle in the eye, that she often rode a donkey to school, which drew some less than complimentary comments from some of the other students.
Young Ethel did well in school. She passed the First, Second and Third Jamaica Local Examinations all before she was 16 but was too young to go College. She therefore joined her father in his business before obtaining her first teaching job at the school in Porter’s Mountain, in Portland. Between 1943 and 1945 she was the President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society Branch in Porter’s Mountain. She then moved to Mount Ward All Age. At Mount Ward she became the Organist at the Mount Ward Methodist Church, teacher at the Sunday School, and Class Leader. While at Mount Ward she did the First and Second Year Teacher Training Course as an external student, as it was possible to do at that time. As she explained, the usual practice was to go out of the district once per month. Therefore, there was much time to engage in studying.
Having successfully navigated the path of young ambitious rural youth, through the Jamaica Local Examinations, Birdie through Correspondence Courses through Wolsey Hall and Bennett College, demonstrated that she could also conquer the high school curriculum. She took and passed five GCE ‘O’ Levels subjects and three GCE ‘A’ Levels in European and English History, Economic History and Religious Knowledge.
She was accepted into Shortwood Teachers College to complete the teacher training programme which she did in one year, graduating in December 1948 as a trained teacher having obtained distinctions in several subjects. She returned to Mount Ward where she became acting Head Teacher and then Head Teacher, based on the outstanding performance of her students in the Jamaica Local Examinations. Her year at Shortwood brought her into contact with one William Campbell, an insurance salesman of the highest repute.
He offered her more than a life insurance policy. He proposed partnership for life which she accepted after some consideration. By 1951 they were married and she moved to Kingston. Her first teaching post was at Swallowfield All Age for a short time and then to Kingston Senior School. There she participated in successful Secondary School Experiment, where some Senior School students were allowed to continue for additional two years at the end of which they did both the School Certificate and GCE O Level examinations at one sitting. Birdie taught history. All her students passed with 90 per cent gaining Credits or Distinctions. Birdie the brilliant teacher soon rose to Senior Assistant and then Deputy Head, at Kingston Senior School.
In the early 1960s Birdie went abroad to Boston University where she obtained her B Sc degree in History and Psychology. On her returned to Jamaica took up the post as Methods Tutor at the Caenwood Junior College. She only remained there for one year, as in 1966 she applied for and obtained the post of Lecturer in Education at Mico Teachers College.
At the encouragement of the then principal, Mr Glen Owen, and with the support of her husband she journeyed to the University of Indiana where she completed her Master of Art degree in 1969. On her return to Mico she made steady progress up the academic ladder as she proved her mettle in diverse circumstances. She became Senior Lecturer in Education then Principal Lecturer and Head of the Education Department and made history when she became the first female Vice Principal of the College in 1975.
Dr. Claude Packer, current principal of the Mico University College has already recited her contribution to the Mico, hence I will not repeat them here save and except to say that on her retirement from the College in 1979 she was held in the highest regard and affection by the Board, her colleagues and her students. Indeed, many of her colleagues and students, including my wife, coveted her friendship long after she and they had left the College.
Birdie’s connections with the Mico went beyond the formal interactions within the College. Long after she had retired from the College she used to organise domino sessions at her house on Widcombe Crescent on a Friday night to which she would invite not only her relatives but Rene Shirley, Eric Downie, Ashley Hibbert, Gladstone Carty, me and others. While Willie played dominoes she ensured that we were lavishly watered and fed. Every now and then she would inquiry who was winning. This almost always made Eric Downie nervous, especially in circumstances where Willie was on the verge of getting a six love.
Mrs. E. V. Leslie-Campbell was not only the consummate professional but was always deeply involved in the work of the Church and in community service. Having left the church Mount Ward and moved into Kingston and joined Coke Methodist where she remained a member for over 50 years. During this time Mrs Campbell was involved in the Young People’s Department, Sunday School, Evangelism and Missions, and was a Class Leader for decades. She was Circuit Steward, Society Steward, Lay Helper and a member of numerous Committees of the Church and Jamaica District.
With respect to Community activities, she served on several Boards, including those of St Andrew High School, Excelsior, the United Theological College, Lister Mair Gilby School for the Deaf, Carberry Court Special School and the Jessie Kerridge Continuation School. She was a member of the Allocation Committee of United Way, the Soroptimist Club of Jamaica, and the Citizen Advice Bureau Strategic Planning and Fund Raising Committee as well as the Founder and President of the Friends of the Lister Mair Gibly School.
Many groups and organisations recognised Mrs. Campbell’s service in tangible ways. These include:
- The Kiwanis Club of Jamaica
- Shortwood Teachers College
- Mico College which not only awarded her a Medal of Appreciation but named a Building in her honour.
- Harmony in the Home Movement
- The Methodist Church in Jamaica and the Caribbean
- The Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation.
The only notable absence from this list is a Jamaica National Honour, which she certainly deserved.
In her retirement, Mrs. Campbell still remained active despite the death of her husband, which was a severe blow to her. However, over the last ten years, she became more and more homebound as her health deteriorated. The death of her last remaining brother was another severe blow. Nevertheless her will to live brought her through. Those of us who visited her on a regular basis can attest to the fact that she retained an active interest in our welfare. You would always get a call from her even when in the latter years she had someone to place the call from her.
Birdie lived a long, fruitful and meaningful live. She had a robust interest in life whether it was with her plants and fruit trees or in her profession or in the church. She demonstrated her commitment in her engagements and through her deep interest in children, especially those who were challenged in different ways. She has re-united with her beloved Willie. She is now with her Maker and Redeemer. Birdie we will see you in the morning, rest in peace.