In memory of the defender and photographer of the Quabbin Les Campbell reservoir
Generous. Humble. Type. In a soft voice.
David Campbell, of Belchertown, says he has learned a lot about his father, Leslie “Les” Campbell, in the past six months since his birth. death in September at the age of 95. Condolence notes poured in with memories of how Les Campbell had impacted the lives of so many.
“As I visit his house every day, the common thread I find is that he liked to share what he knew,” says David Campbell. “He was a teacher. There are a lot of things you could call, but the teacher can sum it up best.
His father began to share his love of birds, for example, through photography, encouraging others to learn the art as he did over many decades, winning numerous national and regional awards for his images. The photography also helped Elder Campbell focus on another love, the Quabbin Reservoir, the complicated history of its creation, and its natural beauty.
The reservoir, but perhaps more importantly, how its creation changed lives forever in the Swift River Valley of western Massachusetts when it was built in the 1930s, s has proven to be a focal point in many facets of Les Campbell’s life.
The Quabbin was where he got his first job, washing dishes for workers in the 1940s. He pursued a career as a laboratory technician, testing the quality of water supplied daily for consumption to millions. of homes in Greater Boston. It was there that he lived in a rented house on the reservoir land for over 40 years.
And, it was the subject of countless exquisite photographs in which Campbell captured its wildlife and natural beauty.
“I think I was one of the luckiest guys on the planet to have that kind of life,” Les Campbell told a reporter from The Republican in an interview in 1992. His mission, Campbell told the time, was to educate the people “that we have to keep (Quabbin) as it is, as a sanctuary for people, as well as for wildlife … It would be so easy to destroy (its value) as sanctuary ”.
Now friends and admirers want to make sure Les Campbells and his second wife, Terry Ann Campbell, who died in 2004, are honored with the appointment of the Quabbin drop-in center for them. It was the Campbells who worked tirelessly with the Friends of Quabbin group they founded to see the drop-in center established in the mid-1980s. There they organized groups and organized events to introduce visitors to the Quabbin and its history.
A bill seeking legislative approval for the visitor center to bear the Campbell’s names was introduced this month by State Senator Anne P. Gobi, D-Spencer, with support many members of the Senate and House of Western Massachusetts.
Gobi remembers first visiting the Quabbin as an elementary school student and going to the visitor center.
“You come in and maybe you don’t want to read it all, but you look at the pictures,” Gobi says. “This is what is striking. It is photography that attracts people. Then they learn the history (Quabbin) and what is behind those photos. I’m a former history teacher, and (understand) you need that connection to the past. It is extremely important to commemorate both Les and Terry-Ann in this way.
Gobi says she will push for the bill, once it receives a case number and is assigned to a committee for review, to be expedited in hopes that its passage may coincide with the family’s plans. and Campbell’s friends to have a memorial in May. “I know there will be no controversy on this subject,” notes the senator.
Already, several groups, from Friends of Quabbin to many of the photography organizations that Campbell helped found or to which he belonged, rallying community support for the legislation.
Stephen M. Brewer, Gobi’s predecessor as a senator for the district of Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire and Middlesex which includes most of the Quabbin and the 25,000 acres of its watershed, succinctly describes Les Campbell: “He was the eyes of Quabbin.
Like Campbell, Brewer grew up in the vicinity of what would become the Quabbin – Campbell in Ware and Brewer in Barre, where he lived his entire life. Their lives have mingled with those of people whose families once lived and died in the towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott, whose remains now lie beneath the crystal clear waters of the reservoir.
Brewer would go so far as to say, “The state has stolen this land from the people of the Swift River Valley. So the passionate reaction of people like Campbell to preserve the heritage of cities lost when it was created, he explains.
“(The) pushed senators like me and Bob Wetmore before me to ensure that this sacred ground, paid for by enormous sacrifice on the part of the people, was protected,” Brewer said. “Imagine if you had just returned from World War I and survived the gas of war in France. Your family has been in Dana or Greenwich for 100 years, and the state says you have to go. And, by the way, ‘We’re digging up grandma in the graveyard, and she got out of here too.’ There were 39 cemeteries where the Quabbin is now located. It was visceral for Les and for me, and I didn’t experience it. I always took this to the Statehouse with me.
As he talks about his late friend, Brewer interweaves his comments with memories of Campbell’s photographs, one showing a view of Ware from Highway 9 as the city is shrouded in fog. “Les was as fine a nature photographer as you could find him,” says Brewer.
In the music barn built by the retired senator and where he often goes to play the banjo, Brewer keeps several photographs of Campbell, including a portrait of the town of Greenwich, superimposed on the body of water in which he was swallowed.
“Les was really extraordinarily creative,” said the retired senator, adding that Campbell and the Friends of Quabbin group “humanized” the history of the tank for those who didn’t know it. “It won’t be long before there is no one left who has lived and can tell these stories,” says Brewer. “When people forget the sacrifice that was made, it can become a problem. If you weren’t protecting the Quabbin, you should have set up a water plant.
Like Brewer, former Senate Speaker Stanley C. Rosenberg, of Amherst, had a decades-long friendship with the Campbells. He recalls meeting Les Campbell for the first time while working in the extension service at the University of Massachusetts in the 1970s, when Campbell asked about the creation of an arts council in Belchertown. .
Rosenberg remembers Campbell’s work enlightening people on Quabbin’s history with displays of his photographs on large screens, accompanied by music by high school students in Belchertown.
“His commitment to preserving the history, beauty and meaning of the Quabbin was simply legendary,” said Rosenberg. “He had a very big personality and was a very persuasive man. He was still the leader, but Terry was still there. She was quietly injecting her ideas and thoughts.
Rosenberg, who treasures two photographs of Campbell in her home, believes the couple’s sustained service as volunteers to the Commonwealth deserves to be recognized. “I think it would be wonderful to recognize (Campbell’s) decades of commitment to the Quabbin and its protection and proper sharing of the Quabbin. Through his photographs he brought people to the site, encouraging people to come but not spoiling it. Let’s not keep it a secret, Les would say. Let people learn the history and enjoy the beauty.
Brewer knows a bit about how to get things named after someone. One of Quabbin’s three public boat launches, located in Hardwick, bears its own name. Recalling this ceremony, he said: “I was moved beyond belief. Four generations earlier, it was three kilometers from this boat launch that my immigrant parents came from County Cork in Ireland to settle on Greenwich Plains Road in Hardwick.
The senator says he thinks his old friend might well feel the same way about the visitor center being named after Campbell. “Deep down, he would love it. Les was just a guy who cared about nature.
Cynthia G. Simison is editor-in-chief of The Republican. She can be contacted by email at [email protected].