Remembering Julia Campbell

UPDATED with photo and link to some blogs and to family statement: A woman I worked with in the 1990s, Julia Campbell, has been missing for more than a week after taking a hike in the Philippines, where she was in the Peace Corps. This morning, AP reported that her body was found in a “shallow grave” near where she was hiking. Her death leaves me sadder than I expected. I knew Julia well for little more than a year when we worked at the St. Petersburg Times, then keep in contact for another couple of years in the way so many of us do — long distance, a call or two, word passed along by mutual friends. During a down period in my life after my mother’s death and a career stagnation, Julia and I shared a U-Haul trip from Florida to NYC. (She was moving back to the city and I was going home to hang with a couple of friends and visit my old neighborhood.) I met her parents and stayed overnight in their Fairfax, Va. home.

At my age, I guess I find any death of past friends bothers me terribly, especially the younger ones like Julia, who is 40. (Yes, I hope it is not her body, but fear it is.) I remember Julia as a fun dinner companion who came to our house on Halloween and handed out candy with a big smile on her face — so like the ones I see now with stories of her death. I remember her as having a great desire to succeed in journalism, but running into some of the realities we all face as competition gets tougher and editors fail to see the potential of people and stories. She struggled some in Florida, for many reasons, including it not being a place that fed her soul like New York did. (Although I grew up in the city and didn’t leave the area until I was 28, Julia had the kind of love for NYC I associate with people who moved their after college — it is wide and deep and so many other places pale by comparison.) When she moved back to the city, single again, I recall being anxious for her but hopeful this was the path she should be on. I realize, in retrospect, despite only being a decade older than her, I felt fatherly toward her, which seems silly now since it appears she was more together than I ever have been.

I lost contact perhaps 8 years ago, sometime before 9/11, which from news accounts affected Julia in a profound way. She volunteered at Ground Zero, and eventually at age 38 signed up for the Peace Corps. I admire that — It appears she found something of an anchor. Funny, but journalism draws a lot of us into it because we see it as a way to somehow change the world, in big ways. We end up taking some satisfaction if we change something — a person or institution — in some way, with our work, but grow cynical that NOTHING we do will touch lives enough. I wonder if Julia realized that, and saw one-on-one help through the Peace Corps as an answer.

I and other boomers think there is time in front of us to do things, even as we know there is more life behind us than in front of us. I hope my sense is right — that she lived a good life that mattered and will be remembered.

Note: A good place to learn more about Julia is here, a blog maintained by one of Julia’s close friends and Peace Corps colleague.

Here is a link to Peace Corps news release, which includes at end a statement from her family.
A couple of other links below to blog posts from Julia’s friends: