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Saying goodbye to Mrs. Campbell

All are invited to Roanoke Catholic’s end-of-year faculty/staff luncheon on Friday, June 9, 12 noon, at which we will honor Mrs. Campbell, music teacher Rayfus Parham who retires this year after 21 years of service, and other departing faculty members. CLICK HERE TO RSVP.

From student to parent to teacher, Catherine Ann Doherty Campbell has been part of Roanoke Catholic for nearly 60 years

The year that little Catherine Ann Doherty Campbell first stepped foot inside Roanoke Catholic School, the average cost of a new home was $12,750. Cincinnati’s baseball team was officially the Redlegs out of fear that fans would associate their former name, the “Reds,” with communism. And a junior high schooler was receiving a B- on a class assignment which had students design a new 50-star U.S. flag (his grade was later changed to an A when his design was adopted by Congress).

1958 marked the beginning of Campbell’s journey at Roanoke Catholic – a wide-eyed first grader (no preschool or Kindergarten back then) whose father worked two jobs, and sold his wife’s homemade dishtowels on the side, in order to afford the tuition for her and her two brothers.

For the next 60 years, Campbell symbolized that passion for Roanoke Catholic: first as student, then parent, teacher – even match-maker. This year she retired.

“On our first workday this year, a dear friend came with a paper chain with 180 colorful links,” Campbell says. “So everyday I selected a student to announce to the class a blessing that they received that day and tear off a link. It has been so fun and affirming to hear what they hold dear and to see the days pass!”

The teacher chapter of her Roanoke Catholic story almost didn’t happen. After graduating in 1970, she went to Virginia Tech to get an education degree. “I did a year of full-time student teaching and vowed I’d never teach.”

Her first job out of school came in 1974 as an extension agent in Rockingham County. Two years later, she quit to care for her and husband Blair’s newborn son, Matthew. She planned to be a stay-at-home mom until “a fellow Hokie coaxed me into helping start the public school kindergarten program in Rockingham County.”

Kate Campbell in 1st grade

That, too, was short-lived. The following year Blair’s job took them to Texas, where she found herself in the Kindergarten classroom again. There they remained for seven years, followed by a two-year stretch in North Carolina.

But in 1987, Blair’s company closed, prompting the couple to return to Roanoke and move in temporarily with her parents. As she was mulling over two new teaching jobs – one at a public school and the other at her alma mater – her mother walked into the room and whispered, “Your dad is in there on his hands and knees praying you’ll accept the job at Roanoke Catholic.”

And so began her next Celtics chapter.

Over the next 30 years, she taught 1st grade computing, 7th grade math, but mostly 3rd and 4th grades, where in addition to academics she preached the merits of good handwriting. The art of cursive was such a passion of hers that in 2016 she penned a column to The Roanoke Times on the subject: “I still take delight in writing the perfect note to students (especially with those colorful shiny gel pens), and who does not notice those artfully addressed Christmas cards (or birthday notes or wedding announcements) and perhaps gaze a little longer at them and remember those who wrote them?”

Twenty-seven years after leaving her 4th grade class, a former student wrote to her: “You taught and refined my cursive … you left a mark on me which is evident in every mark I make.”

But regardless the grade level, Campbell always instilled in her classroom the school’s vision: “Blending learning with faith and faith with daily life.”

“We help kids identify their mission in life,” she says, “which is not to make themselves happy. Our purpose in life is to help others achieve happiness.”

She adds, “Our spiritual experience at Roanoke Catholic cannot be matched and I will always be grateful for that. Where else can you pray for, and with, your students?”

Among her many other highlights through the years: once recruiting FX network to cover Roanoke Catholic’s first day of school; having Blair close by tending the grounds of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church; witnessing the dedication of the grotto at the school’s entrance; watching her son, Matthew, ’94, make his own journey through Roanoke Catholic; and years later introducing him to her fellow 3rd grade teacher, Wendy Betters, who in 2012 became her daughter-in-law.

Reflecting over her decades at Roanoke Catholic, she offers two pieces of advice:

“Remember those who have come before. They contributed to what Roanoke Catholic is today,” she says. “And always look for that special light of Christ in everyone so that Jesus’ mission may continue on this earth.”