Chuck Campion, 62, adviser to Democratic presidential campaigns
With the prescience of someone who became a political operative before the age of 10, Chuck Campion surveyed the presidential campaign landscape in 1996, a few days after New Hampshire’s first-in-the nation primary. He was troubled by what he saw.
An increasingly condensed primary calendar left people little time to think before voting, he wrote in an op-ed essay for the Globe. And candidates “who sometimes take extreme positions on important issues” — that year, he said, it was Republican Patrick Buchanan — were reaping benefits.
“Although they may be able to attract less than a third of the vote, they emerge in the media coverage as one of the two or three major contenders for the party nomination,” added Mr. Campion, who by then was a seasoned campaign adviser and a founder of the Dewey Square Group in Boston. “Careful scrutiny of their positions is all but impossible in the compressed time frame. The unintended consequence of the front-loaded ‘slingshot’ is it sometimes boosts the candidate who is the best demagogue.”
A veteran of multiple Democratic presidential campaigns, Mr. Campion also persevered through nearly as many significant surgeries, including three kidney transplants. He was 62 when he died Wednesday in Massachusetts General Hospital of complications from surgery.
“He was a great example of somebody who loved politics, and did it, and did it well,” said Michael S. Dukakis, who was serving his first term as Massachusetts governor when he hired Mr. Campion more than 40 years ago.
US Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, considered Mr. Campion “a trusted adviser and a political strategist without equal” and called him “the central hub in the Hub for Boston politics. He had an incredible ability to master complex policy issues, but also understand the human concerns at the heart of the policy.”
Mr. Campion remained committed to politics for decades, flying to distant states to rescue faltering presidential campaign operations, even though health concerns were ever present. He lived more than half his life after the first of his kidney transplants.
“Through all of his physical difficulties he was always up, ready for the task, out there, deeply involved in the political process all the time. And he reflected a kind of joy in doing that which was so special,” Dukakis said.
“He lived life to the fullest,” Dukakis added. “He had a great personality, great enthusiasm for public life and for politics. And he never stopped working at it. I know he rested from time to time, but I never saw it.”
That political passion was inspired in part by Mr. Campion’s grandfather, Edmund J. Donlan, who had been a longtime state representative in West Roxbury.
“I went door-to-door with nominating papers for my grandfather when I was 7 or 8 years old, and I remember how shocked I was when one lady said, ‘I can’t sign that. I’m a Republican,’ ” Mr. Campion told Washington Post political columnist David S. Broder in 1984. “I had no idea what a Republican was.”
At the time of that interview, Mr. Campion was 28 and was running Walter Mondale’s presidential primary campaign in New Hampshire, a task he began before the rest of the candidates sent advance teams to the Granite State.
Mr. Campion arrived in December 1982, months ahead of the others. Already he knew that preparing for Election Day was both an intellectual and a physical enterprise.
“Putting together a campaign in a state like this one is not like throwing a prefabricated house together,” he told Broder. “It’s brick work. You build an organization by getting people who have been involved in past campaigns to take responsibility in this one. And that is a process that is done one-by-one, over a long period of time.”
Charles M. Campion grew up in Brookline, where his mother, the former Mary Donlan, taught elementary school and initially raised Mr. Campion and his four sisters as a single mother. She later remarried, and he has a half-brother from that marriage.
Mr. Campion, who was always known as Chuck, graduated from Brookline High School and went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in political science. His real education came elsewhere, however.
“He told me he was not one to spend too much time at school because he was always working on a campaign,” said his son Maxwell of Boston.
Dukakis recalled that his own son, who knew Mr. Campion at Brookline High, “told me, ‘Just hire the guy. He’s terrific.’ And I did.”
Mr. Campion worked in the Dukakis administration in the mid-1970s, and then on advance planning for President Jimmy Carter, which led to a job as special assistant to then-Vice President Mondale.
While working in Washington, D.C., Mr. Campion met Heather Pars, who was then a speechwriter for Carter. They married in 1984, during what, in that era, was a brief downtime for campaigns between the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
Along with running state operations during Mondale’s 1984 presidential bid, Mr. Campion worked for other Democratic presidential campaigns, including those of Dukakis in 1988, Vice President Al Gore in 2000, and US Senators John Kerry in 2004 and Hillary Clinton in 2008.
Mr. Campion founded his own firm after the 1984 presidential campaign, and 25 years ago he was a founder of the Dewey Square Group. He and his wife lived in Brookline, where they raised their two children.
“Beyond his family life, he had hundreds of best friends, and he cherished his friendships so, so much,” his son said.
The affection in which others held Mr. Campion was apparent in 2013, when he needed a third kidney transplant. His son said Mass. General told the family the hospital had never fielded as many offers from potential organ donors. “So many people were willing to give life to him,” Maxwell said.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Campion leaves his daughter, Courtney, of Atlanta; his mother, Mary Donlan Richard of Falmouth; four sisters, Rosella and Tracy, both of Boston, Suzanne of Falmouth, and Leigh of Centerville; and his half-brother, Christian Richard of Weymouth.
A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Wednesday in St. Cecilia Church in Boston.
Mr. Campion was defined by “generosity of spirit, generosity of honesty, and generosity of hope,” said Larry Moulter, a friend of more than 40 years who is executive in residence at the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Center for Collaborative Leadership.
While facing numerous health adversities, Mr. Campion would “never play the illness card. He’d joke and say, ‘With my minor ailments,’ ” said Moulter, who is the former chairman and CEO of New Boston Garden Corp.
Instead, Mr. Campion was a magnet for those who wanted to share in his ebullience. “Politicians would come to him to help write their St. Patrick’s Day presentation. All these people came to him because they knew he could turn a funny line that was never a mean line,” Moulter said. “As clichéd as it sounds, when people ask, ‘Did you see the glass half full or half empty,’ for Chuck the glass was always full, and his heart was always full.”