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Bayview Baptist Church members celebrate founder Walter C. Campbell

CLEARWATER

The Rev. Walter C. Campbell Sr. used a warm smile to bring calm to every situation. And it was his strength and total trust in God that helped forge a new path for parishioners of Bayview Baptist Church.

The church, just off McMullen-Booth Road, now has Campbell's likeness on the front. Here's how it got there:

Last Sunday, about 150 of Campbell's family and friends attended a memorial service at the church that he founded. They sang Hold to God's Unchanging Hands and a jazzy version of This Little Light of Mine. The youth of the church performed soul-stirring dances.

Some attendees told stories about being at City Hall until midnight so the church could get annexed into the city limits. They laughed about Campbell telling them that he had "wide feet" so they had better get his gold slippers and long white robe ready for him when he makes it to heaven. Standing, everyone sang Father Abraham, a song that Campbell loved to sing with the church's youths.

A pillar of Pinellas County, the Rev. Campbell died in December 2010. He was 71. At the end of Sunday's hour-long service, church members unveiled a plaque mounted to the outside of the building that bears his likeness.

"He loved everyone and greeted you with a handshake and smile and he would always encourage you," said his daughter Cynthia Campbell-Williams, 47. "He knew the family would stay together because he set the foundation. It's an honor for me to say that he's my father."

His grandson, Clearwater police officer Sherman Young, 28, echoed those sentiments.

"He is the reason I am who I am today," said Young, who wore his uniform to the service. "He taught me to treat everyone the way you want to be treated, to never look down on anyone and to always have faith."

City Council member Bill Jonson was in attendance as well.

"He was just so positive," Jonson said. "And he always had a smile for me."

In 1974, Campbell founded Bayview Baptist Church, one of the first interracial churches in Clearwater. In 1983, the church purchased 2 acres on S Meadowlark Lane, where it's now located. The current church was built in 1995.

Campbell was the president of the Upper Pinellas branch of the NAACP for 12 years and was one of the founding members of Faith and Action for Strength Together, an interdenominational civic group.

"He was involved in so much and fought for justice for those who were not getting it," said community member Isay Gulley. "He was also a bridge builder and would bring the races together for a better community. He always looked at the heart of man and not the color of their skin and tended to find a way to work with everyone."

Campbell was an astute businessman but he also found time for laughter and his competitiveness was apparent, especially when he was bowling.

"He would always say, 'If you didn't do anything for me while I'm alive, when they stretch me (across the altar), I'm going to jump up and scare you,' " said Bennie Golson, another minister. "He was a wonderful man and would keep you laughing all the time."

The Rev. Donald S. Scott is the current pastor of Bayview Baptist. He said Campbell left the church in solid financial and spiritual footing.

"(Campbell) tried not to focus on himself but told people to look to the Lord and not him," Scott said.

Campbell and his wife, Annie, were married nearly all of their adult lives.

"Words cannot express my feelings today," Annie Campbell said. "I'm just overwhelmed to think that people found time in their busy schedules. We were married 54 good years. He was my only lover and God blessed us with a good life."

The memorial service ended the way the Rev. Campbell wanted it to end: with a fish fry and cheese grits. Those in attendance sat at long tables on the church's lawn socializing and did what Campbell often encouraged them to do. They laughed and smiled.

"With the fish fry, now I feel like I've done everything he wanted me to do," Annie Campbell said.

Recreation center renamed?

The Campbell family is leading an effort to have the North Greenwood Recreation & Aquatic Complex named after the late Rev. Walter C. Campbell Sr. A meeting will be held to discuss the effort at 6 p.m. April 24 at the aquatics center, 900 N Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Clearwater.

Bayview Baptist Church members celebrate founder Walter C. Campbell 03/16/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 16, 2012 8:00pm]
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