Mary J. Campbell
Former nursery school teacher and orthoptist was an enthusiastic world traveler and an avid bird-watcher
Mary J. Campbell, an orthoptist who worked in eye care for nearly three decades and an accomplished pianist, died of congestive heart failure Saturday at the Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville. The former Ruxton resident was 93. “She was a very kind, gracious and grateful person,” said Mary Ellen Thomsen, a friend who lives at Roland Park Place. “I first got to know her 54 years ago when our children were in the same nursery school, and we’ve been friends ever since.”
“Mary Jo was a warm and caring person who had many, many friends who appreciated her ever-present sense of humor,” said Peggy C. Taliaferro, a Broadmead resident and a friend of 41 years.
The daughter of Oscar Bernard Thomas, a pharmacist with Thomas and Thompson Co., and Josephine Reindollar Thomas, a homemaker, Mary Josephine Thomas was born in Baltimore and raised on Englewood Road in Roland Park.
Mrs. Campbell, who was known as “Mary Jo,” attended Roland Park Country School during the Depression but withdrew when her family could no longer afford the tuition. She attended public school, then was awarded a scholarship to Roland Park Country School and graduated from there in 1941.
“The Depression had a lasting effect on her outlook,” her daughter, Carol Campbell Haislip of Monkton, wrote in a profile of her mother’s life. “She worked and scrimped and saved all her young adult life to better herself.”
She earned teaching accreditation in early-childhood education from Columbia University, then returned to Baltimore to teach nursery school at Roland Park Country and Friends schools. During World War II, she taught in government-sponsored nursery schools, mostly in South Baltimore.
Mrs. Campbell earned a certification in orthoptics — the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of eye movement disorders — from the Wilmer Eye Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
“In her written board and oral and practical examination she placed second out of all candidates in the U.S. and Canada,” her daughter wrote.
From the early 1950s until retiring in 1988, Mrs. Campbell worked as an orthoptist, first for Dr. Arnall Patz and then for Dr. Joseph W. Berkow, who took over Dr. Patz’s practice at Falls Road and Cold Spring Lane in 1970.
“I inherited Mary Jo when I took over Dr. Patz’s practice, and she was a very lovely person,” said Dr. Berkow. “There are very few in this field, and as a trained orthoptist, what she did was measure the deviation in the eyes of children that were not straight.
“She loved what she did, and she loved the children,” he said.
In addition to her professional life, Mrs. Campbell studied piano at the Peabody Conservatory.
“Not many people knew that she did that, and music was a lifelong love,” her daughter said.
In 1955, she married S. James Campbell, an executive vice president of Harry T. Campbell & Sons Co., a sand and gravel company. The firm later transitioned into a planning and development company that worked on White Marsh and other developments throughout the state.
The couple built a home on Indian Head Road in Ruxton, where they lived for 50 years and raised three children.
Her husband died in 1988, and Mrs. Campbell continued living in their home for 16 years until moving to Broadmead in 2004.
She was an avid bird-watcher, bicyclist and gardener. She was also a world traveler and had visited all seven continents. Her last international trip was a safari to Kenya and Tanzania with her family in 2008.
Dot Gustafson, also a Broadmead resident, shared an interest in birding with Mrs. Campbell.
“She had a remarkable life and was the most well-traveled person that I’ve ever known. She always loved to be on the go and … made an impact on those who knew her,” said Mrs. Gustafson.
“She was a member of the Baltimore Bird Club, which is the Baltimore Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, and locally we’d go birding at Robert E. Lee Park and Cromwell Valley Park,” she said. “She went to Alaska, and so did I, but we went at different times. She always traveled with a pair of binoculars.” “She was an absolutely lovely person to travel with. She was fun all of the time and loved an adventure,” Mrs. Taliaferro said.
“She chose exotic destinations for her trips and didn’t want to go to England or Paris. Wewent to South America, took a trip down the Amazon, and to Cuba,” she said. “And she always worked in a morning of birding. She was such an ardent traveler who never wanted [her trips] to end.”
Mrs. Campbell and her husband also enjoyed entertaining and attending parties.
“She loved to entertain at dinner parties at her Ruxton home and loved to cook,” Mrs. Taliaferro said.
“My husband and I started a black-tie New Year’s Eve party in 1964, and she came every year until last year,” Mrs. Thomsen said.
“When she moved to Broadmead, she wanted to make sure that she had all of her New Year’s Eve dresses.”
She had served on the boards of the Maryland Society for Sight and the Hampton Mansion National Historic Site.
Mrs. Campbell was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and for more than 50 years was a member of L’Hirondelle Club and the Woman’s Club of Roland Park.
For more than 60 years. she was an active member of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church Woodbrook, 6200 N. Charles St., where funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday.
In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Campbell is survived by two sons, S. James Campbell of Salinas, Calif., and Alexander Thomas Campbell of Center Sandwich, N.H.; and seven grandchildren. Mary J. Campbell was a pianist and studied at the Peabody Conservatory.