John Olin Campbell III was born in September 1945, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the youngest of three children of John Olin and Mildred Virginia Patterson Campbell. He loved to regale his kids with stories of childhood mischief – including the time his mother, upon discovering that Johnny had been playing 'Cowboys and Indians' a little too roughly with his sisters, offered to join in the fun, and then tied him to a tree and left him till dinnertime. He grew up in Tulsa, ran track, was voted Student Body President and Student of the Year at Thomas A. Edison High School, and moved on to Yale. His Oklahoma enthusiasm stayed with him his whole life,...
John Olin Campbell III was born in September 1945, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the youngest of three children of John Olin and Mildred Virginia Patterson Campbell. He loved to regale his kids with stories of childhood mischief – including the time his mother, upon discovering that Johnny had been playing 'Cowboys and Indians' a little too roughly with his sisters, offered to join in the fun, and then tied him to a tree and left him till dinnertime. He grew up in Tulsa, ran track, was voted Student Body President and Student of the Year at Thomas A. Edison High School, and moved on to Yale. His Oklahoma enthusiasm stayed with him his whole life, and 'whooping and hollering' were his favorite forms of encouragement and rejoicing.
Yale was formative for him: he worked at the Ulysses S. Grant foundation teaching underprivileged children, was inspired by and joined with William Sloane Coffin in religious activism, and was selected by Walker Evans for a photography seminar (and could later always be counted on to demand "Just one more picture"). He was an adventurer, surprising his parents one year by hitchhiking across the country to be home for Thanksgiving. In 1965, he hitchhiked around Europe, carrying back stories of setting out to hike the Mettelhorn in only a light jacket until a blizzard convinced him to reconsider, of sleeping in a haystack one night and visiting a grand art museum the next morning, of weeks spent studying in the Taizé monastery. College confirmed in him a desire to make his career a 'ministry in education' – a combination of his desires to serve God and to lift and teach his fellow men.
In 1967, he met his future wife, Janet Phillips, at a bus station in California – they were both on their way to Sequoia to work for a Christian Ministry in the National Parks. He worked in the grocery and she as a cabin maid, but on the weekends they hiked and explored together, cementing a mutual love of outdoor exploration. That year, he began a Master's Program at the New York Union Theological Seminary. He later recounted his excitement in the depth of the discussions, tempered by his disappointment at the lack of prayer, which seemed to deny spiritual inspiration. While at Union Theological, he wrote a paper outlining what he hoped to see in the future of the ministry – small 'house churches', a lay clergy, and a congregation that would all take part in blessing the lives of others. All the while he was dating Janet, and they were married in Southern Pines, North Carolina in 1969 using a liturgy they had written together.
They moved together to Massachusetts, where both taught – he at Berkshire Country Day School and she at Miss Hall's School. He had perhaps his first experience with computer-assisted learning there when he created Wilbur the Computer Tutor for his students. He also found himself in a surprising clerical situation when he and Janet began attending a Unitarian church together, and the minister discovered he was in seminary, and asked him to be an associate minister. When Olin pointed out that he wasn't even a Unitarian, the minister assured him that wouldn't be a problem, and he found great joy in serving.
Olin and Janet moved together to California in 1972, where he earned his PhD in Educational Psychology at Stanford University, focusing on computer aided teaching. The move to academia reminded him of the many John Campbells already in the world, and (much to Janet's surprise), he began using his middle name, Olin, in his personal and professional life. He supported the family though his work with CourseWare, designing training programs for pilots and crew of P3 Aircrafts at Moffat Field, and completed his dissertation by studying how children learned to read at Ravenswood School in Palo Alto. Olin was thrilled by the possibilities of computer-assisted education, and worked to fulfill his dream of eliminating educational boundaries and reaching and lifting struggling students through computers.
Ever since getting married, Olin and Janet had been exploring different religions, and in 1975 they joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) together. In it, he felt he had found the "house church" he had written about at Union Theological. Anna and Julia were born in California, and then Olin decided they'd better figure out 'what they'd gotten themselves into' by joining the Mormons, so they moved to Utah in 1978, where he worked for WICAT (World Institute for Computer-Assisted Teaching), and James, Margaret and Sarah joined the family.
He loved to use his kids to advance his research, and WICAT sponsored the elementary school where they studied in the early 1980's, with computers supplementing teachers for math instruction. He also received his first calling as a bishop, or lay leader of a congregation, in the Mormon church. Serving as Bishop became a major part of his life's work, and he coached, counseled, served, and led three different congregations in Utah and Nashville. The blessing of lay clergy for him included the seamless integration of leadership and more humble service roles, and he gloried in his time serving in the Boy Scouts just as well as those years as Bishop. In 1987 they moved to Washington State, where Olin directed the Peace Shield Training at Boeing, and got to indulge his love of airplanes.
In 1989 they moved to Nashville, TN, where they lived for 10 years while Olin taught and conducted research on cost effective computer-based training at Vanderbilt University School of Education. While there, he received a grant to work on a project called 'Problem Solving with Others', which used computers to train people in problem solving. Six years into his time at Vanderbilt, he switched to the School of Engineering where he published extensively on their studies of the comparative effectiveness of simulated and physical lab work. His vision of bringing the experts to everyone via online education, led him to consult through his own companies, Campbell Associates International (CAI) and Performance Mentor to help make education more accessible to adult professionals and students alike. In 1999, the family returned to Orem, UT, where Olin finished his professional career teaching at BYU's McKay School of Education, in what was the most supportive and engaging professional environment in his career.
Throughout his life, Olin worked to instill in his kids a love of learning, adventure, and good stories. Janet and Olin's first camping trip with kids came when Anna was only 6 weeks old, and they continued to get their kids outside 'early and often'. Walks with Olin always involved minute observations of the surroundings, with questions about "What do you think that is?" or "Do you see that? Why do you think they designed it that way?" Usually he knew the answers and could help his kids along, but sometimes the discovery and hypothesizing were mutual. He loved taking the family camping, and his kids joked that the surest way to predict rain was see when Olin had planned a family camping trip. Whether walking or camping, Olin was always picking up litter, and teaching his children their responsibility to leave each place better than they found it. Olin was an excellent storyteller, but he never said "Stop me if you've heard this one". When his kids jumped in to tell the familiar stories, he smiled with glee – "I'll know you get it when you can tell it to me yourself".
The family was heartbroken when Olin was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's in 2005. Though his decline was rapid, everyone rejoiced that Olin's sincere friendliness and desire to serve were preserved. His greatest sorrow was that he was no longer able to help others as he wished. His greatest joy was getting to talk with 'interesting people'. Long after he had lost the ability to recognize anyone but his dear wife, he expressed to all visitors his sincere joy in getting to have them near.
Olin passed away early in the morning on Sunday. The night before, his family was gathered around him to pray and sing and comfort each other, and then tell rip-roaring stories of the adventures he had lived and shared.
A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, March 29th at the LDS Chapel at 6011 McCrimmon Pkwy, Morrisville, NC. Visitation will begin at 10 am, and the service will commence at 11 am.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the John Olin Campbell III scholarship fund at Brigham Young University.