In Memoriam: Sarah Campbell

Sarah Campbell, professor of Archeology at Western Washington University, died on May 14, in Portland, Oregon, in the presence of her son, sister, and friends. She was 71.

Sarah Campbell

Sarah was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the first of the six children of Robert Campbell and Laura Mason Campbell. She was a precocious child, known early and for the rest of her life for her immense curiosity and intellect, driven by her iconic physical and mental energy. She started school early, skipped a grade, and graduated from Bloomington (Indiana) High School at 16 and from Indiana University at 20, with a double major in Anthropology and Geology. In 1972 she entered graduate school at the University of Washington where she earned her PhD in anthropology, focusing on the archaeology of the Pacific Northwest.

In 1988, she joined the Anthropology Department at WWU, and over the next 34 years, until her retirement, she taught archaeology courses and summer field schools to countless students – many of whom decided to pursue archaeology careers after taking one of her courses. She was a devoted and demanding mentor of graduate and undergraduate students, encouraging rigorous scientific thinking, while never losing sight of the people, the humanity at the root of the archaeological enterprise. Students also learned the importance of collaboration with Tribal communities, an ethos that she embodied throughout her career.

She was the eldest in a close family, a role model to her siblings. Growing up in Indiana or spending time together on California mountain vacations, she was the one who set the standard in listening to cool music, identifying wildflowers, winning at cards, and finishing the crossword puzzle. She was the first to swim across the lake or climb the peak. She was a thrift store shopping genius, baked especially good biscuits, and kept a beautiful garden.

Bellingham and northwest Washington, both in its present and its archeological past, became her true home as an adult. She brought up her son Kevin there, as well as in all the other settings she loved: the coast, the mountains, archeological digs, a semester in Mexico, and time with her parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. She was a fiercely proud and devoted mother.

Sarah lived with cancer for more than four years and she faced it with astonishing optimism, an almost complete absence of complaint, and always, curiosity and intense interest. She often simply ignored it.

She is survived by her son Kevin Mitchell; ex-husband Duncan Mitchell; her mother; her brothers Andrew Campbell (Belle Rehder) of Socorro, New Mexico, and Benjamin Campbell of Milwaukee; and sisters Polly Campbell (Neil Sharrow) of Cincinnati, Emily Campbell (Tom Ford) of Oakland, California, and Alice Talcott (Malcolm), of Piedmont, California.

There will be a service in the fall. Memorial donations in Sarah’s name can be made to Lhaq’temish Foundation (formerly known as the Lummi Nation Service Organization).