A voice he’ll miss

Published 9:51 am Saturday, August 20, 2011

Steve, this is Jack Camp.

So began many a phone call over the past five years.

I can’t recall the first one specifically, but I remember hearing a voice of strength and authority. The voice weakened in recent months, and the calls came less often.

My friend Jack Camp died last week, and already I miss those phone calls.

Ours was an unlikely friendship.

I was a Franklin newcomer. Jack was as deeply rooted as one can get, his family having built the town and its economy and his family’s charitable foundations and generosity having sustained it through recent years of hardship.

Jack was twice my age.

He was rigidly conservative, well to the right of my moderate politics.

Jack saw the world in black and white. I often struggle to interpret shades of gray.

“There wasn’t a neutral bone in his body,” Jack’s preacher friend said at last weekend’s funeral service, eliciting chuckles by all who knew Jack. Truer words were not spoken during a terrific eulogy.

I never asked Jack why he befriended me, but in five years, I never discerned an ulterior motive. Those become easy to spot in my business.

Despite long conversations about local politics and occasional disagreements therein, he never once asked me to change my position or the newspaper’s position on a topic or controversy. He never asked for special favors.

Mostly, he just wanted to catch up. Occasionally, he’d invite me to his home for an evening cocktail or a lunchtime bowl of soup.

One time a few years back, he summoned me to a lunch gathering, where he proceeded to call on the carpet leaders of, in his view, an underperforming organization that received generous financial support from the Camp Family Foundations.

To this day, I’m still not sure why he invited me that day. He never asked me to write about it in the newspaper. He never asked me not to.

I surmise, in retrospect, that Jack simply found in me a kindred spirit who loved Franklin passionately but refused to engage in blind optimism. He wanted the very best for his community, and he knew that achieving it required community leaders to acknowledge problems and tackle them head on.

Where others tired of Jack’s negativity, I liked him because he still cared. By the end, Jack had little at stake in Franklin. He had more money than he could ever spend in the brief time he had left. He was spending most of his time at his wife’s home in Wilmington, N.C. His children had long since left Franklin. Jack would neither profit nor lose personally from Franklin’s future success or failure.

Yet he remained deeply concerned about its well-being. That’s what I liked most about Jack — and the reason Franklin will miss him.