Robert J. “Bob” Campbell in his younger days.
December 20, 1937 – March 27, 2020
photo from M.A. Hays Insurance Facebook page
“He was one of my rock solid guiders on education matters.” – former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Jr.
By Allen Payton
Former Assemblyman Robert J. “Bob” Campbell who represented Contra Costa County in the California State Assembly passed away on Friday, March 27, 2020 following a battle with cancer. He was 82. A Democrat, he served 16 years from 1980-96 representing the 11th District in the California State Assembly.
Campbell was first elected to the Richmond City Council in 1975 where he served until his election to the Assembly. He was also an insurance broker and owner of M.A. Hays Insurance Brokers in Richmond.
According to his biography on Wikipedia: “His family settled in Richmond when he was a child. After high school graduation he attended Contra Costa College in San Pablo and San Francisco State University, where he received a B.A. degree in 1961. He served in the U.S. Army and the California National Guard from 1961 to 1972. He worked in the insurance industry.
From 1963-65 Campbell worked as a political science professor at U.C. Berkeley.
He developed an interest in politics while still in college and worked on several election campaigns before being elected to the city council at age 37. He won his campaigns for Assembly eight straight times in the heavily Democratic district. His priorities as an Assemblyman were education and environmental protection. He chaired the Ways and Means subcommittee on education for six years and served on the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee for 15 years. He was often the author of bills involving funding for schools and community colleges.
During his time in the Assembly, Campbell would distribute books to constituents that contained copies of the California Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Declaration of Rights, Articles of Confederation and the Mayflower Compact.
In 1996, unable to seek re-election to the California State Assembly due to term limits, he opted to run for California State Senate. However, Campbell didn’t run for his area senate seat, which had been made more competitive after the last redistricting. He chose to instead run in a neighboring district, which was much more Democratic, but went on to lose the Democratic primary to Assembly colleague Barbara Lee. He was subsequently appointed to the California Coastal Commission in 1996 by then-Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante.”
He helped spawn a generation of leaders in the county, including three who offered their condolences and thoughts about Campbell, as well as other current county officials.
Campbell’s former district chief of staff from 1980-87, Eric Zell, a political consultant and former West Contra Costa Healthcare District Board Member, shared his thoughts about his long-time friend and former boss.
“Outside of my parents, Bob had the greatest influence on both my professional, and in many ways, my personal life. A great mentor, an unbelievable role model and a true ‘common man’,” wrote Zell. “He helped so many people, and never wanted or asked for recognition. There will never be another like him. My family and I were so fortunate to be part of the Campbell ‘family’. May his memory be a blessing.”
Former campaign aid and Assembly staffer for Campbell, Tim Farley who served as a Martinez Councilman and Contra Costa Community College District Board Member, shared his comments in a post on Facebook.
“I am shocked and heartbroken to hear the news that former state Assemblyman Bob Campbell has passed away,” he wrote. “I worked on his successful campaign for the state Assembly in 1980. I learned so much from him. At 20 years old Bob treated me like a seasoned campaign aid. Later I worked on his Assembly staff from 1983-1994.We have been friends for over 40 years. God bless you Bob and know you will always be in my heart.”
“Sorry to hear this news. I learned a lot interning in his Capitol office in the early ’80s. RIP Bob,” wrote former Concord Mayor Guy Bjerke, who interned for Campbell in 1981 while attending Sac State University. He now works for the City of Concord in charge of reuse of the former naval weapons station.
“Bob was one of the finest public servants I ever met,” wrote Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff. “He treated all alike and worked so hard for our county.”
“We lost a strong progressive voice for the most vulnerable and for all of Contra Costa,” wrote Supervisor John Gioia. “Those of us who knew Bob, know how much he listened to people and then used the power of government to improve people’s lives. We will miss Bob, but we benefit from his legacy every day!”
In a post on Friday on the M.A. Hays Insurance Company’s Facebook page, his staff shared their condolences: “It is with a heavy heart that we have to tell you that Bob Campbell passed away. He has been sick with cancer that came back this past year. Bob owned M.A. Hays Co and his hard work and dedication to the residents and businesses of West County as an Insurance Broker, Richmond City Council member and our State Assemblyman for 16 years is unmatchable. His support and help of the less fortunate, improving his community on an everyday basis as well as other Californians will not be forgotten. His laugh, his storytelling and his great smile will be missed within the insurance office of M.A. Hays Co. Rest in Peace Bobby, you made the world a better place while you were here.”
When reached for comment, former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Jr. shared his thoughts about and gave accolades to Campbell.
“I was frankly amazed when Jack O’Connell, retired State Superintendent of Public Instruction, advised me early Sunday morning that Bob Campbell had passed away,” he said. “I was blown away. He was always athletic, he was not a drinker or smoker in any excessive way.”
“He was particularly dedicated in the world of education,” Brown said. “He was one of my rock solid guiders on education matters.”
“I counted Bob Campbell as a key in the world of urban based education, coming out of Richmond with the kind of needs that school district had,” he continued. “Whatever we did for Richmond in some cases became what we did for other similar school districts, because of Bob Campbell’s efforts.”
“It’s a real loss and he died much too younger. I thought a lot of him, personally, as well,” Brown added.
Campbell leaves behind his wife, former Richmond City Councilwoman Maria Theresa Viramontes; a son, Kirk Campbell of Richmond; a daughter, Lisa Campbell and partner Chios Holguin, and a grandson, all of Davis; stepsons Armando Viramontes of Richmond, David Viramontes and Andres Uyeda; grandchildren Andrew Viramontes, Livia Uyeda-Tannyhill, and Kelly Reck of Richmond.
Services have not yet been scheduled.