Out of the ordinary: Elizabeth Campbell leads 'an interesting life'

"I think I'm an interesting person," says Elizabeth Campbell, with intriguing certainty. Who would say such a thing about herself?

Campbell was born in Seattle on July 25, 1952, the first of Marilyn and Verne Redman's six children. Though busy at home, Marilyn found time to volunteer for the school district and to participate in local historic preservation.

Verne has worked in the warehouse at Abbey Party Rents for 45 years. In his 70s now, he still does. When he started, the company also rented out medical equipment for home use - hospital beds, oxygen tanks and such. Campbell remembers careening around the warehouse in wheelchairs with her siblings.

Elizabeth grew up on Queen Anne. She attended John Hay Elementary School, was in the first entering class at McClure Junior High School and graduated from Queen Anne High School in 1970.

Queen Anne has changed since she was growing up. "There's a lot more traffic now," she says, "a lot of transplants." Stores weren't upscale, and she knew all the owners. Nancy's Sewing Basket used to be Elsie's, also a fabric store. Tully's Coffee was Salladay's Pharmacy. Ravenna Gardens was the S&M Market, with produce displayed in rough-hewn troughs on the sidewalk.

"Kids could buy hotdogs there for pennies," she says. "Same with A&J Meats. It was nice the way it was." She waxes nostalgic like a senior citizen, but she's only an aging baby-boomer.

Her heritage is mostly English and Norwegian. "But I'm not into it," she says. "I don't like Norwegian food and costumes." However, she has traced her genealogy, with the help of a few ancestors, back to the 1600s.

She is proud that her great-great-grandfather, John R. Rogers, was the third governor of Washington (1897-1901). He ran on the Fusion ticket, a compromise of Democratic and Republican positions. He is remembered best for bringing about the Barefoot Schoolboy Act, which granted the right to a free public education to every child.

An interesting life

After high school, Campbell held a variety of jobs. She was a nurse's aide at Queen Anne Healthcare on Dexter. She ran a 10-key in the Visa Department of the National Bank of Commerce. Charge slips came to her in tubs wrapped in bundles in rubber bands, which she processed by hand. She was a union carpenter for Howard S. Wright Construction Company, the first woman in Seattle to be a union carpenter. That job provided the impetus for her concern for equal rights for women and minorities.

In 1976, a day after her 24th birthday, Campbell married Foster Campbell, owner and builder of Queen Anne Healthcare. Born in 1917, Foster was 35 years older than her. He had been married twice before, and had a son who is also older than his wife.

Three months before they were married, Elizabeth and Foster's only child Candy was born. Foster's strict Adventist family did not like this risqué chronology, but they were not surprised. His reputation with them was already checkered.

Ten days after Candy's arrival, Elizabeth's youngest sister was born. In other words, Candy has an aunt who is younger than she is.

Got that? In the Campbell/Redman clan, generational lines are blurred.

Following their marriage, Foster and Elizabeth built more nursing homes in several western states. After Foster retired, Elizabeth continued on her own. She facilitated the passage of a $3-million bond to fund her last nursing home project in Reno, Nev.

In 1987, Foster and Elizabeth divorced, and the next year Elizabeth got into the baking business, almost inadvertently. On a lark, she attended a going-out-of-business auction at Van de Kamp's Bakery and came away its new owner. She knew nothing about baking or the baking business, but learned how to operate the 20-inch by 20-inch ovens, and she carried on from there.

Meanwhile, Foster went to Mexico and had a short-lived marriage to a resident there. Then he and Elizabeth reconciled, and re-married in 1990. A few months later he died of complications from diabetes.

Over the next several years Elizabeth bought a total of five bakeries that made sweet goods only, including her trademark "Seattle Bar," a concoction of caramel, coconut, chocolate chips and walnuts. She sold all five in 1999.

Life in Magnolia

Elizabeth moved into her daughter's home on Magnolia and took care of her young grandson full-time while Candy was at work. As her grandson grew, Elizabeth discerned some unusual aspects to his development, leading eventually to the diagnosis of a form of autism. "It's been quite a journey learning about autism and other developmental disabilities, the laws pertaining to persons with disabilities and the services available to them," she says. "That is something good I have contributed to my grandson's life."

Elizabeth's grandson is now a second-grader in special education, and his mother Candy is married. "My son-in-law is French," says Elizabeth. "I've taken up studying the French language and culture."

When Candy married, Elizabeth was no longer Candy's dependent. As such, she qualified for a free community college education under the Displaced Homemaker Act. She attended Shoreline Community College and earned her Associate of Arts degree in criminal justice last year.

She is now a junior at the University of Washington. She has two majors, one in the Law, Societies & Justice Program, the other in sociology. She also has two minors - in American Indian studies and disability studies. "Social justice is a high priority for me," she says.

"Being in school now," she continues, "I know more about what they're teaching young people and, because of my age, I'm a more challenging student for the professors." She believes she needs a degree to further her goals.

"I'm very interested in how institutions act," she says. "Take the interaction between tribal governments and various levels of U.S. government. Tribal rights are not in the Constitution, but they still need to be considered."

She continues to work in the community as an advocate for under-represented people. She is on the board of the Magnolia Community Club and heads its Land Use Task Force, taking on such projects as providing affordable housing on Magnolia, cleaning up the Thorndyke medians and Burlington Northern right-of-way and improving Smith Cove Park.

Elizabeth admires strong women. She cites Pamela Harrington as an example. United States ambassador to France during the Clinton administration, "Pamela Harrington was polished, accomplished and directed in her life," Elizabeth says. What she doesn't add is that Harrington was married three times and had many affairs, not unlike someone Elizabeth knew intimately.

"I think I'm an interesting person," says Elizabeth, "because I've done a lot of non-traditional things." In addition to everything else, she even raised pigs for a while in Walla Walla.

But one traditional thing she does now is bake at home. Her caramel toffee apple pie with pecans recently won first place in a pie-making contest at the Puyallup Fair.

Teru Lundsten is a freelance writer living in Queen Anne.[[In-content Ad]]