On my first work day at Bates, way back in 1977, I was invited to lunch with a small group that included Leigh Campbell ’64, then beginning his fifth year as director of financial aid. We were there to talk sports, and we had a great time talking baseball. Near the end, after I had displayed a wonderful objective knowledge and history of the game, they asked me my favorite team.
“The Yankees,” I softly replied, and immediately got a look from all of them that said, “Wow. Bates really is interested in minority hiring.”
Lunches and conversations like that went on for years on all topics, largely sports, and on many wonderful occasions. Like the time Leigh encouraged me to go to the Maine high school state basketball tournament, a glorious experience of Americana where whole towns show up to see their young boys and girls compete, and where miracle plays and upsets are frequent because of such high expectations. Though he rarely mentions it, Leigh has been taking a week of vacation from Bates every year since the 1970s to serve as the tournament’s official scorekeeper. A sportswriter once called him the “unassuming and silently competent…company clerk amid the frenzy.”
Starting from that first lunch, the memories are powerful. But all were topped by this last one: I learned that Leigh was retiring on a July night, when I made a quick trip to Hannaford’s supermarket around 10 o’clock.
I was listening to the Yankees game on the radio while driving over, hoping they would come back to beat Toronto. I hurried through the store, and as I headed out I saw Leigh walk in.
“What are you doing here?” he said.
“I’m rushing out to hear the last of the Yankees game,” I replied.
“I’m listening to that also,” he said.
I was not that surprised. Over the years, he had revealed himself to be a true sports fan, following teams and games on a variety of radio broadcasts. He’s also a passionate Red Sox fan, and he’d grumpily switched to the Yankees game after the Sox fell way behind the Royals.
I expected Leigh to rib me about the Yankees trying to hang on, but he surprised me by saying, “I bet you didn’t know I’m retiring.”
“No! When?” I replied.
“Tomorrow,” he said.
It was so sudden that I needed to try to collect what it would mean that Mr. Bobcat wouldn’t be coming to the office anymore. It would mean my not seeing him bleed garnet for every Bates defeat, or hearing him proclaim the wonderment of a Bates victory, like in 1992 when Bates beat Colby on its own floor to hand the Mules their sole loss of the season.
It would mean Leigh not calling to advise me that a student of meager means might need some extra help when they arrived at school, and him not being around to love the Maine kids at Bates more than anyone else does. It meant me and others not seeing and feeling the pride of him working, always modestly, at his own institution as it grew and excelled over the many years.
He noticed I was a little shaken, so he invited me to his car to listen to the ninth inning. Sitting there, I was curious about the game’s end, but thinking more about Leigh’s departure. Bates is so important to him; and how will it be without his daily presence? He is part of this place’s long memory, and his participation goes from the 1960s to whatever this decade is supposed to be called.
I finally figured out what I was also trying to zero in on that night. I have known Leigh the best and longest of any other individual person currently working at Bates. That’s nothing small, and it is vastly treasured. Listening to the game that night was so poignant. It was supposed to happen. I sat there slightly interested in the Yanks’ winning, which they did, but more reflecting on everything in the moment. The buzz of a baseball game and the crowd on the radio on a quiet Maine night. The announcer speaking in those baseball tones — anticipating victory and disaster in one voice — much as Leigh does sometimes.
I thought of this change for me, and this bigger change for Bates and Leigh. He has brought so much to Bates and to all of us. Like that radio broadcast in the car: giving to me so much more than he was receiving.