Book Review: ‘While You’re Up’

Published 2:27 pm Thursday, February 19, 2009

Visitors and newcomers to Franklin can scarcely miss the Camp name on a number of significant landmarks, including the YMCA and the Community College.

Who were these people? In 1887 three Camp brothers formed Camp Manufacturing Company, later Union Camp Corporation and later still, International Paper Corporation’s Franklin manufacturing complex.

Several decades ago the Camp’s and their local, related families, the Rawls’, the Marks’, and the Ray’s were much seen and involved in the community, but the founders and their children have passed on while the third generation has aged, and, indeed, most of them are gone as well.

The fourth generation are much dispersed throughout the country and only a few remain around Franklin.

One member of the third generation splits his time between Franklin and Figure Eight Island, near Wilmington, N.C. and has passed on his recollections of growing up here with his observations of Franklin in most of the last century in a wonderful memoir, “While You’re Up.”

John Madison Camp Jr. is the grandson of Paul Douglas Camp, the first president of the Company.

His “daddy” was John M. Camp, a long time, wonderfully and famously gruff, official in the Company and one who dominated the lumber and woodland operations.

A devoted alumnus of Virginia Military Institute, he insured that his son, Jack, would attend there as well.

The son, the writer of the memoir, is a more enthusiastic alumnus than he was cadet, which is often the case with graduates of that institution. But he did successfully graduate and found his experience valuable when he entered military service during World War II.

In his memoir Camp describes a smaller and much more rural Franklin.

The family operated a farm behind The Elms, his grandfather’s home on Clay Street that included the real estate now occupied by the homes on Meadow Lane, the Park, and the Community College.

There were dairy cows, horses and fields, all a great environment for a growing boy and his friends.

A part of Camp’s early life was in Wallace, N.C. where his father managed a lumber operation for the Company.

This was even more rustic than Franklin, but typical of lumber mills and employee housing and life from the end of the Civil War to the days leading up to World War II. That is very much a part of our Southern history.

Camp, who became an aviator before he entered the Army Air Corps when the United States entered World War II, no longer pilots his own plane.

He still loves flying and likes to travel by private plane, but the book describes a more adventuresome young man who looked for every opportunity to fly anything the Army had handy, particularly in India where his was stationed.

He even flew the then obsolecent Curtis P-40, the fighter plane of Flying Tiger fame though his principal vehicle was the military C-47 that became the long lived Douglas DC-3 passenger liner in civilian dress.

A collection of his letters to his family describing his daily activities, his flying experiences, his relations with the native population and the weather (flyers always note the weather) plus flying over “The Hump”, the incredibly hazardous route over the Himalayas, from India to China, will hold the reader’s attention.

He describes his return to his wife and first child, his beginnings with the Company after the War and gives a very frank description of his career as the Company merged with Union Bag of Savannah and became a large and more complex multi-state corporation with markets throughout the nation.

Camp also describes the growing up of his children, the loss of his first wife and his college sweetheart, Jean, and the discovery of his beloved present wife, Rachel.

While the book was written at the insistence of his children as a record for his descendants, it will interest readers in Franklin and in the corners of Southampton and Isle of Wight counties that adjoin the present city as well as those interested in the history of Virginia and our forest products manufacturing growth.

After receiving my copy I sat down in the evening to look at a few pages.

At 2 a.m. I reluctantly closed the book to get some sleep. It is fascinating, and for those who love this community, should be required reading.

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