Brian Mittge Commentary: Farewell to a Chehalis Servant-Leader, Dave Campbell


What sad news to read about the passing of former longtime Chehalis City Manager Dave Campbell. He died of cancer at age 68 with his family by his side. 

Public employees sometimes get a bad name, but Dave was one of the good guys. I met him when I was a brand new cub reporter in 2000 covering the Chehalis and Centralia city councils. He always impressed me with his professionalism, wry sense of humor and impeccable mustache.

I remember sitting in his office at city hall and noticing a photocopy he had taped to a file cabinet by his desk. It was an old hand-drawn cartoon from a few years earlier, when the city had changed from the old three-person city commission to the new council-manager form of governance.

Someone had drawn up a cartoon expressing concern that the new city manager position, which ran city government day-to-day under the council’s high-level direction, would have too much power.

“The new city council is all right,” the cartoon read, showing a man in duck-hunting garb, “but we really have to bird-dog that city manager.”

I had to chuckle at the cartoon, and I figured that any bureaucrat who was willing to display something like that prominently in his office had to have a pretty good sense of humor, or at least a keen awareness of how he was viewed from the outside.

I have another distinctive memory of Campbell from my early days as a reporter. Some kids had created an impromptu skateboarding park at the old tennis courts at the abandoned Millet Field along Chehalis Avenue.

Using whatever scrap wood and metal junk they could drag out of the woods and alleys, they made a nice little setup of jumps and obstacles. Unfortunately, the city decided it was a legal liability and would have to come down.

I was there when Dave Campbell, wearing a suit and tie, went down to talk to these kids in their loose shirts and baggy jeans.

It was a fish-out-of-water situation, but he still spoke to them respectfully and they listened intently. He explained the situation and encouraged them to take part in the burgeoning (and ultimately successful) project to build a larger official skate park in Centralia.

It was a good example of the top guy delivering bad news in person to his constituents and helping them see the bigger picture, even if they were too young to vote or be expected to take part in civic debate.

Dave spent 17 years leading Chehalis city hall. He went on to work as assistant city manager in Longview. At the time of his death, he was the Lewis County chief deputy assessor.

It’s heartbreaking to read that he was just a few months away from joining his wife, Debbie, in retirement.

The two of them were a Chehalis power couple, but it was the gentle power of servant-leadership. He with his soft-spoken voice at City Hall and she with her gregarious energy at United Way of Lewis County.

Dave and Debbie Campbell did a lot of good in the Twin Cities. I’m sorry they couldn’t enjoy retirement together after decades of service to their neighbors.


Miss Lewis County Competition Returns

Two years ago this week, my last big public event was serving as co-emcee of the Miss Lewis County Scholarship Competition at Corbett Hall. COVID-19 was just beginning to sweep across the globe. A week after the pageant, lockdowns began.

Now as we begin to emerge — let’s hope! — from the pandemic, the Miss Lewis County Competition has returned, and I’m back as co-emcee. The show starts tonight at 7 p.m. at the renovated performing arts center in Centralia High School.

It’s a great venue for a quality event. I hope to see you there.


Brian Mittge’s column appears each Saturday in his hometown newspaper. Contact him at