NEW PORT RICHEY — Ed Campbell was a "plain ol' Florida boy" who ran Gulf High School the "old school way" during the mid 1970s.
"If you'd do things like you were supposed to, he would take care of you," said Jerry Young, a retired teacher and coach whom Mr. Campbell hired in 1974. "If you did things you weren't supposed to do, he'd also take care of you."
Friends and colleagues remembered Mr. Campbell as a dedicated educator who cared deeply for his students, so news of his death over the weekend hit hard — especially because authorities are investigating the case as a homicide.
The Madison County Sheriff's Office reported that James E. "Ed" Campbell, 75, was discovered dead Saturday inside his rural north Florida home after deputies received a call to check on him. Chief Deputy Epp Richardson would not release any more information, citing the open investigation.
Mr. Campbell was from Madison County and moved back there after retiring from Pasco schools, though he reconnected with many in the community in 2008, when Gulf High invited him to attend a reunion.
He continued to visit once or twice annually ever since.
"You would never have thought that that's the way he would have left us," said Bill Phillips, who played football for Mr. Campbell and kept in close contact with him. "He was just such a great guy. For a lot of us growing up in the '70s, he was a real father figure. He was always there."
Mr. Campbell began teaching U.S. history at Gulf Junior High School in 1964, while also coaching several sports. He became assistant principal in 1972, and in 1973 he took over as the junior high principal after Tom Weightman was elected superintendent.
"He was a very dedicated educator, he had a lot of friends and I know a lot of kids liked him," Weightman recalled Tuesday.
Mr. Campbell became principal of Gulf High in 1975, when it moved into its new home on School Road. During that time, he notably organized funds from the district and the community to build the school's football stadium. He moved to the district office in 1978 to work in the student services office.
In recent years, Mr. Campbell worked with relatives to refurbish a family cemetery in north Florida, Phillips said.
"He was coming up to speed with Facebook and email as a way to keep in touch," Phillips said. "I just think he enjoyed retirement."
Mr. Campbell also enjoyed his regular visits to Gulf High, current principal Steve Knobl said.
"This year he made a point of coming into town (early) and he came into the school at lunch time," said Knobl. "I said, 'You're late for lunch duty.' He said he hadn't been late for lunch duty in about 30 years."
The two men hung out in the cafeteria shooting the breeze and talking about school then and now. "He just kept shaking his head at the way the kids were dressed," Knobl recalled.
Young said he could not remember an unkind word ever being said about Mr. Campbell.
"I went through nine principals," Young said. "He was one of the good ones."
Mr. Campbell did not have any immediate family members, the Madison County Sheriff's Office reported. Funeral information was not yet available.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.