Bill Campbell touched so many lives, and members of the varied groups who knew his friendship and generosity were among the thousands who mourned him Monday at a funeral mass held under a tent on a high school football field in Atherton, Calif. These included the most powerful executives of Silicon Valley, many of whom he mentored; the now-grown children (and their parents) he coached in youth football, boys and girls alike; friends from his own youth in Homestead, Pa.; teammates from his Columbia football squad that won the Ivy League championship in 1961; and friends and family from his decades in nearby Palo Alto.
On a brilliantly sunny day at the Sacred Heart Schools, friends and loved ones remembered Campbell, who died last week at 75, as a sweetly profane businessman who was quick with advice and words of encouragement. Father William Leahy, president of Boston College, where Campbell once coached football, celebrated mass alongside the Reverend John Hester, a priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Palo Alto, where Campbell worshipped regularly. Hester brought the large audience its first uproarious laugh recounting Campbell’s penchant for arriving late to mass on Sunday mornings, but staying late too, dispensing hugs, kisses, and well wishes, prompting one parishioner to ask who the gregarious “hippie” was that insisted on kissing everyone.
A bagpiper in full regalia led Campbell’s coffin into the mass to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” The Rolling Stones, via a recording of his favorite song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” ushered him out. Billionaires and powerful executives in the audience included Tim Cook of Apple, which postponed its quarterly earnings release so employees could attend the memorial; Larry Page and Sundar Pichai of Alphabet and Google, respectively; venture capitalist John Doerr; Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos; former vice-president Al Gore; and Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, a close friend of Campbell’s.
None of these bold-faced names spoke. Instead, Campbell had asked a Columbia teammate, Lee Black, and a longtime neighbor and family friend, Pat Gallagher, to eulogize him. Black, fighting back tears, revealed a fresh piece of information to the Northern California crowd that thought it knew Campbell so well: His Columbia nickname was “Ballsy,” a reference to his style of play on the gridiron. Black related that even then Campbell adhered to no single clique: He befriended jocks, nerds, and every other type of student at Columbia.
Gallagher spoke of Campbell’s ebullience as a neighborhood dad and coach, of a man who purposefully set out to make himself useful to as many people as possible in middle age, when he was concerned his career might have peaked. (It hadn’t.) Gallagher recalled the contents of the cluttered trunk of Campbell’s car: Hats from the bar he co-owned, the Old Pro; bats and balls and hockey sticks and whatever else might be needed for a game; and, tellingly, a strikes-and-balls counter—just in case an umpire failed to show so that Campbell himself could jump in and call the game.
The crowd milled about for a while after the two-hour ceremony, and then many found their way to downtown Palo Alto, to the bar where Campbell loved to hold court and never let anybody, myself included, pick up the tab. There, as the midday beer flowed and the finger-licking-required spicy chicken wings Campbell loved were passed around, those fortunate enough to have known him laughed and told stories and shook their heads that they’d have to look elsewhere now for wise counsel.
Campbell’s family distributed to all who attended a final keepsake, a baseball cap that read “The Old Pro, Palo Alto, CA” in the stylized letters of yesteryear. On the back, in all caps, was imprinted: “BILL.”