Sequim couple climb peaks of life together

SEQUIM — Like many a bride, Evelyn Buckley had no idea what she was getting into.

But she and Tom Campbell, who met when they were two 20-somethings working office jobs, shared a taste for adventure and a steeliness that would carry them through life’s storms.

On the occasion of their 65th wedding anniversary Tuesday, Tom and Evelyn Campbell looked back — and up and through — the peaks and valleys of their journey together.

It began near the start of World War II, when Evelyn was working in the King County Assessor’s Office in Seattle and Tom, who was with a title insurance company, came in to check some records.

Right away, each was impressed by the other’s brightness.

But when weekends rolled around, Tom wasn’t — around, that is. He pursued his passions of mountain-climbing in summer and skiing in winter.

Then he joined the Army in 1941, shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

He became an instructor in the 10th Mountain Division, and taught climbing in Colorado and West Virginia, until a malfunctioning piton caused a compound fracture of his right arm.

Arm amputated

One drop of blood, exposed to dirty wood on the mountainside, led to gangrene; Tom’s arm was amputated.

He came home to attend the University of Washington, and to marry Evelyn on Feb. 2, 1945.

His wife continued working for the assessor for another three years while Tom earned his chemical engineering degree.

She typed his thesis — and everything else he turned in.

After graduation, Tom went to work for the Bureau of Mines in Oregon, but that’s not what the couple talks about when they talk about their early marriage.

Tom, in spite of his lost arm, lived to climb mountains.

He became teacher to many local Boy Scouts; among his students were Jim Whittaker and his twin brother Lou, who would later become famous for summiting Mount Rainier more than 250 times.

So did Evelyn do any climbing?

“I had to. I didn’t want to stay home,” is her quick response.

One of her first ascents was Guye Peak, north of Snoqualmie Pass.

“Afterward, I said, ‘That seemed like a long, tough slog,'” she recalled. “So he said we’d climb it again, next week,” via a different route.

Belaying, rappeling

That’s when Evelyn learned the arts of belaying and rappeling, with Tom instructing her each step of the way.

At first, this was not like falling off a log.

Evelyn remembers clinging to a ledge while Tom urged her on from below.

“I thought, I can either stay up here and be buzzard bait, or I can rappel down,'” she said.

Evelyn took flight, and kept on for many more years.

She remembers climbing the 5,604-foot Tooth, another peak near Snoqualmie Pass, with Tom and their young nephew, Ron Buckley.

At one point, the boy said he could go no farther. Evelyn, having invested much effort, told him she was going to the summit. You’re free to wait, she told Ron.

But “he didn’t want to sit by himself,” she recalled. “We all ended up at the top.”

Both Evelyn and Tom talk mountaineering with nonchalance, as if it were a common pastime.

When pressed, they will show a reporter photos of Tom climbing the south tower of Howser Spire in British Columbia, a mountain many others around the world believed insurmountable.

Fondly, they remember outings with the young Whittaker brothers and with the late Lloyd Anderson, founder of REI.

He started the Seattle-based cooperative, Evelyn said, “because he couldn’t get a decent price on an ice ax.”

Mountains worldwide

The Campbells have explored the Pennines of Switzerland and the Rockies of Canada together. And though climbing can be “dicey,” as Evelyn puts it, she would still rather go up than stay put.

One among her many climbs is Pinnacle Peak, the second-highest in Washington’s Tatoosh Range.

Evelyn ascended it in her 30s and again in her 50s, with her daughter Carol, then in junior high school.

In the 20 years between those climbs, Pinnacle “grew a lot,” Evelyn joked.

Tom, when asked to explain his love for ascension, said only that he enjoys the demands climbing put on his body and mind.

“It has your entire attention, while you’re doing it,” he said.

But as high as the pair has risen, they have also been challenged by low points.

Their first child, Tim, was adopted as a baby, and as soon as he was old enough he went climbing and hunting with his father.

He also showed talent as a musician, playing a Tchaikovsky concerto at his elementary-school graduation, Evelyn remembered.

But then he got involved with illegal drugs, his parents said. He has spent much of his life in prison.

Evelyn and Tom also had two daughters, Carol and Lori. Carol lives in Bremerton with her husband and is an avid outdoorswoman who recently climbed Mount Rainier.

While Evelyn was pregnant with Lori, she became ill with a virus that doctors said attacked her baby’s brain.

Lori was born profoundly retarded. Her parents were told she wouldn’t live past age 6, but she lived to be 38, though she never walked nor talked.

Tragedies drew them closer

Their family’s tragedies have drawn Evelyn, now 89, and Tom, 94, closer over the years.

They treat each other with gentleness, and Tom smiles while counting some of the ways his wife has supported him.

“She’s done a lot of things, and for a lot of them she didn’t get paid,” he said.

“It’s her nature to do an excellent job on everything . . . she did well when it came to climbing, and when she worked at the assessor’s office, anybody with problems was sent to her. She’d find the solution and send them happily on their way.”

Evelyn, for her part, added, “Having been married to him, I got to do a lot of things,” that her classmates from Roosevelt High School in Seattle probably did not.

Daughter Carol, who phoned her folks Tuesday to wish them a happy anniversary, said simply, “They’re two tough people. They work hard for what they want. They’ve taken charge of their lives. They worked hard and saved their money, and they retired early enough to enjoy it,” having moved to Dungeness after Tom finished working in 1976, at age 60.

“They have an incredible following of friends,” Carol added, “that they stay in touch with.”

Her parents lived through the Great Depression and World War II, and then through the loss of their other daughter.

“But they’re very resilient,” Carol said. “They always came out stronger.”


Sequim-Dungeness Valley Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]

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