The Revd Dr Robert Alastair Campbell: 1942-2021
A New Testament scholar and Baptist minister, Alastair was a lover of learning and always trying to educate others. His generosity, thoughtfulness, razor-sharp wit and brilliant mind will never be forgotten
Alastair was a war baby, born in 1942, when his parents Malcolm and Sheila were living in Wallingford where he spent his earliest years; his father was away in the army but not abroad, so was able to come home on leave.
After the war they came back to London to take over the top two floors of Malcolm’s family home in Ladbroke Square, where Alastair’s grandmother still lived on the lower floors. Malcolm ran a School of English and was a leading figure in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language; Sheila was an artist who trained at the Glasgow School of Art.
When Alastair was eight, he was sent away to boarding school in Devon, which was a long way from London in the days before motorways! Then at thirteen he went on to Charterhouse, where Malcolm had been before him.
While at school he was quite seriously ill with a lung problem which dogged him for the rest of his life. He was visited by David Sheppard, the future Bishop of Liverpool, but better known then as a Test cricketer – to the intense jealousy of his younger brother John, as by then they were both mad on cricket and spent most of their time in the holidays playing various forms of the game. They (but probably mainly Alastair) developed their own cricket board game which Alastair tried to sell to De La Rue and other companies, but it was too sophisticated to be commercial!
It was under the influence of David Sheppard that Alastair became seriously committed to Christianity. In 1960 he followed his father to Worcester College, Oxford, where he read classics but spent much of his time in religious activities (though he also rowed in the college second boat). He joined the Christian Union and volunteered in his vacations at Sheppard’s Mayflower Centre in the East End of London. Through an inter-college association between Worcester and Somerville he met Elizabeth, and it was under her influence that he became a Baptist.
On leaving Oxford he went out to Nigeria where he taught English in a school. In 1967 he and Elizabeth were married (at the Baptist church in Headington) and they both went back to Nigeria for a time, after which they came back to Oxford while Alastair trained as a Baptist minister at Regent’s Park College.
He then took up a ministry in Northampton where they stayed for 14 years. It was at this time (c. 1974) that he and Elizabeth fostered and then adopted Jennie, then aged three, by whom they now have three grandchildren, Andre, T’Quan and Jazz.
In 1987 Alastair was appointed to a tutorship in New Testament at Spurgeon’s College in South London, where he stayed for 13 years. During this time he studied for a PhD at London University, which was published in 1994 as The Elders: Seniority Within Earliest Christianity.
As a lover of learning, Alastair was always trying to educate others - to pass on ‘the knowledge’. He’d try teaching the students at Spurgeon’s NT Greek; if that didn’t work then he’d try teaching the NT in English, or just how to write an essay in English, or perhaps the fine art of preaching, while encouraging us not to imitate Aristotle as he was (and I quote) ‘a boring ole fart’. (Not the sort of thing one would expect to hear from The Revd. Dr Campbell)
He also liked to introduce unsuspecting souls to ‘the finer things in life’ - well, his idea of the finer things anyway; sherry, wine, good cheese, LONG walks and classical music, including opera-Wagner, if you could stomach it.
In 2000 he took up a post as minister of the International Church in Kathmandu, Nepal, where his responsibilities included ministering to the Gurkhas.
After a couple of years there he went to Jamaica as a Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of the West Indies. And in 2004 he published another more popular book, The Story We Live By: A Reader’s Guide to the New Testament, based on a series of talks he had given first at West Croydon Baptist Church and then in Kathmandu.
When they left Jamaica Alastair and Elizabeth came home first to Ferndown in Dorset, then to Abingdon and finally when Alastair’s MSA – Multiple Systems Atrophy - started to take hold, to Letcombe Regis.
As a NT scholar and a Baptist minister, Alastair would tell you ‘Do not grieve as those who have no hope; and that to be absent from the body is to be present with his Lord’.
He leaves behind his wife Elizabeth, their daughter Jennie, and their three grandchildren, his stepmother Margaret, his brother John, sisters and brothers in law, nieces, nephews, other relatives and many, many friends.
His humour - dry (like the sherry), his generosity, and thoughtfulness; his razor-sharp wit and brilliant mind will never be forgotten. Rest in peace Unfundisi.
This tribute was read at Alastair’s funeral