Cal OES Building Namesake a Big Personality, Tireless Advocate: Passes Away

Cal OES is saddened to learn of the passing of William “Bill” Campbell. If you don’t know the man, you may recognize the name: our headquarters building is named after him.

Bill Campbell passed away on March 22, 2015 at the age of 79. He was born on July 24, 1935 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania; he was laid to rest Saturday, March 28, in Orem, Utah.

Campbell May 9 2001
Bill Campbell at Building Dedication May 9, 2001

Bill served over 20 years in the California Legislature as an Assemblyman and a Senator. As Senator, he served as Chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee, Minority Leader of the Senate, and leader in emergency preparedness, which led to the State Office of Emergency Services named “Senator Bill Campbell Building.”

“We have lost a member of our emergency services family,” Cal OES Director Mark Ghilarducci said. “Bill was a great public servant and we’ll all miss his tireless support for OES and for public safety advocacy.”

The Sacramento Bee noted that the perpetually affable Campbell once served as Republican leader and with a wide repertoire of corny jokes, was a popular master of ceremonies for political events throughout the state. Former Gov. Gray Davis said in an e-mail that Campbell “helped solve a lot of problems,” during Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s first two terms. “He had a good heart, and came from the generation of moderate Republicans that wanted government to function efficiently, not grind to a halt,” Davis said.

Campb w Zagaris and Gov Davis
Bill Campbell with Former Governor Gray Davis

More than a decade after leaving office, Campbell led the blue-ribbon commission that investigated the causes of the 2003 Southern California wildfires and recommended ways to prevent future disasters. The large commission – state and local emergency response officials, state and local politicians of all stripes – was a showcase of Campbell’s ability to find consensus, one of his greatest talents as a lawmaker.

“There were left wingers on the environmental side and right wingers and he brought that whole panel together,” lobbyist Jerry Haleva said. “Just like when Alan Robbins and Diane Watson were fighting over busing in the San Fernando Valley, he was able to find a middle ground.”

On the first page of the commission’s report, Campbell wrote:

“Unless and until public policymakers at all levels of government muster the political will to put the protection of life and property ahead of competing political agendas, these tragedies are certain to repeat.”

The most extensive account of Campbell’s career, including many insider stories of legislative intrigue, was written by Greg Lucas, now the state librarian, in his political blog, California’s Capitol, in 2008. You can find it here.

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