Former teacher inducted into Portsmouth’s Circle of Saints

Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover (right) gives Dick Campbell (left) a proclamation declaring March 8, 2024, as “Mr. Richard Campbell Day” while Donna Henry, Portsmouth Catholic Regional School principal, looks on. (Photo/Jennifer Neville)

Dick Campbell touches the lives of nearly everyone he meets.

Former students, colleagues and friends attested that he lives the Gospel values outlined in the beatitudes through his 43 years of teaching in Catholic high schools and his philanthropy through his parish, Church of St. Thérèse, Chesapeake.

His good works and passion for social justice prompted the Portsmouth Catholic Alumni Relations Committee to induct him into its Circle of Saints March 8. The annual honor is bestowed upon a graduate of Portsmouth Catholic education or someone with close ties “who lives a life of faith, knowledge and service in a spirit of excellence,” explained Donna Henry, Portsmouth Catholic Regional School principal.

Parishioners and former students described Campbell as wise, peaceful, caring, charismatic and having a great sense of humor.

John McCarthy, who was the athletic director and a fellow coach with Campbell in the 1970s, said, “Wherever Dick is, wherever Dick was, he just brought a wonderful, spirit atmosphere that everybody picked up on and loved; adults, kids, it didn’t make any difference; he was the same guy to everybody.”

Educated in Catholic schools himself, Campbell taught religion at Portsmouth Catholic High School (PCHS) from 1971 until its close in 1991 and then at Norfolk Catholic High School, now Catholic High School in Virginia Beach, until he retired in 2015. He was a soccer coach at PCHS and baseball coach at both schools.

Dick Campbell teaches religion to a group of Portsmouth Catholic high school students in the mid-1970s as principal Sister Margaret Dougherty (far right) observes the class. (Photo/Buddy Sanford)

He has been active in his parish, serving as its first chair of the Justice and Peace Committee, helping the homeless, facilitating a group on Scripture studies and supporting the Haiti ministry. He presents on social justice and Church history at Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes, youth confirmation preparation classes, as well as presentations for the entire parish. The list goes on.

Deacon Frederick “Bubba” Allen, Church of St. Thérèse, said Campbell’s desire to serve others is contagious and inspires many parishioners.

Campbell, 75, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and Richmond.

After high school graduation, he attended a seminary in Catonsville, Maryland, where he discerned the priesthood for one year. Following that, he went to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Richmond, where he graduated in 1971 with a bachelor of arts in history and political science. He earned education credits at Old Dominion University in Norfolk and VCU after he began teaching at PCHS.

He married Peggy “Bebe” Coburn in 1982; they have three children and three grandchildren.

When he started teaching, the principal told him that the most important thing in teaching religion is to be honest with the students and not try to pull the wool over their eyes. That was his “guideline” during his entire career, he said.

“I wanted to be honest and teach the kids what the faith requires of us, how it calls us to be different, how it calls us to stretch ourselves and make our lives show the Christian values that we hold to,” he said. “The blessing that came to me from doing that work was that I had to work on my faith all the time.”

“One of the things I learned by teaching is how important it is to live the Gospel values, to try and be the kind of person that the Gospels calls us to,” Campbell continued. “I learned that more every day that I worked in the schools, and it became more important to me each day to try my hardest to live Gospel values, to be the person that Jesus wants us to be.”

He said he strove to teach his students to be critical thinkers and to see that everybody has value, is a child of God and deserves human dignity. He often took the classroom out of the school building with projects, such as painting a home where a parish was planning to place a Vietnamese refugee family or taking groups of PCHS students to the Eastern Shore to visit with families at migrant camps.

Campbell’s wife explained, “He taught the kids to think outside themselves, that the world doesn’t just revolve around you. The world is much greater than just you, and God calls us to think about the least of our brethren.”

Elaine Lyons, former student and colleague, said the two most formative classes Campbell taught were world religion and social justice, because they “opened students’ eyes and hearts to the Gospels and the rest of the world in ways that had never been done before.”

“He influenced thousands of young people to think about their faith in new and expansive ways” and to live it through service to others, Lyons added.

He was also simply fun. For example, he directed the PCHS kazoo band which played at basketball games for a short stint, and he took it with humor when Erin Howerton Dail, a former PCHS student, accidentally tossed a lemon meringue pie in his face.

Dail and Henry said that Campbell helped his pupils recognize, develop, appreciate and use their gifts for the good of others.

Brice Anderson, former student and last year’s Circle of Saints honoree, added that instead of telling the students what to believe, he showed them how to lead their lives. “I still try to lead my life … to be of service to other people,” he said.

Campbell said other former students have told him about the difference he has made in their lives.

“But the real truth is that they all made a real difference in my life. I became a better person every day from going there, and I really learned to love those people,” he said.


Scroll to Top