Heartfelt tributes pour in for the whistling man in black

The worlds of religion and football have come together to pay tribute to Rev Frank Campbell of Ancrum, who died last Wednesday, November 22, following a short fight with cancer.

Monday, 27th November 2017, 9:29 am
Updated Monday, 27th November 2017, 9:31 am

Frank, who turned 60 earlier this year, was universally admired, whether he was performing services at Ale and Teviot United Churches in Ancrum, Lilliesleaf, Crailing and Eckford; or officiating as referee or linesman at local football matches in the Border Amateur and East of Scotland leagues.

Frank was born in Paisley in 1957, qualified in Business Administration at Strathclyde University and worked for a while as an accountant and paralegal.

He was called to his first charge in the West of Scotland in 1989 and it was there that he met his soulmate, his wife Alexis.

Frank applied for the post of minister at Ancrum church in 1991, and was met at Harestanes by session clerk John Rogerson for an informal interview.

John told us: “He was there when I rolled up on my motorcycle, and he was very interested in it, as he said he was a big fan of speedway.

“I remember thinking then that this guy was alright.”

And John’s first instincts proved correct – Frank got the job and the two became firm friends.

John said: “That was one of his great strengths – he could talk to anybody and be interested in anything they had to say.

“He had a great rapport with the congregation and he liked to get responses during the service.

“Sometimes, he had me sit in the front row so I could heckle him ... he loved that.

“For instance, once, he started reading from a book in the bible, and told the congregation he would take an hour and a half. I told him ‘Well, you’ll be here yourself’ ... it was never dull.”

Another of his friends, the Rev Neil Combe, who is the interim moderator, told us: “He was physically big – well equipped for looking over the heads of players to see what was going on elsewhere on the field.

“In public meetings his size and deep resounding voice gave him presence.

“He had a big vision for the church and the gospel, and had little time for the petty-minded introspection that sometimes infects the church. He had a big passion for God and the Gospel.

“And he was big hearted. He had such a love for people of all ages and stages of life. Just as he was fair as a referee, he treated everyone he dealt with in the same warm and fair-minded way.

“He was a model of what a parish minister should be and I count it a great privilege to have known him.

“Like hundreds of other people, I will miss him.”

John and Neil said Frank had hoped to retire in April and move to Fuerteventura, but his diagnosis with cancer meant his dreams of living in the sun were never to be realised.

And while he was very ill, Frank had hoped to perform one last service at Christmas this year. Again, this was not to be,

He was much loved by his congregation, and many took to social media to give tribute.

Melanie Hannay wrote: “RIP Frank. Such a kind man who helped us and our children settle in here. Happy moments playing with trains. Thinking of Lexi and family.”

And Amanda Geist commented: “A true gentleman, one of the nicest people you could hope to meet, a huge loss for the community and his family, just so sad.”

And Frank’s wife Alexis thanked them all for their kind words.

She wrote on Wednesday: “I’ve just read the comments about my wonderful husband. He died peacefully this morning after a battle with cancer.

“My heart is breaking at the moment with my soulmate gone, but reading all these comments has brought a smile to my face. Thank you for all your support. Lexy And the Campbell clan.”

Frank’s first love was football refereeing, and in an interview with this paper in 2001, 10 years after he moved to Ancrum, he told us how his move up the referee rankings was somewhat halted.

He said: “In 1987, I tried to get promotion to a higher grade, but it wasn’t to be. The first game in which I was assessed by the supervisors went well, but the next game in Glasgow didn’t go completely to plan.

“There was an incident right at the end, where I had to send two players off, and because it was the last minute I hadn’t checked they had gone back to the changing rooms.

“The wee guy who was the supervisor was on the line at the European Cup Final in 1960. He was about five feet nothing, and he came up to me and roared: ‘Frank, I’m no very happy wi’ you the day.’

“While he was giving me this, one of the players who was sent off came up and lifted him up by the neck and said: ‘Is this little **** bothering you ref?’

“I just said: ‘No, no, it’s all right, you can put him down.’ From that moment on, I thought, ‘Frank, you’re wasting your time here.’”

Frank was for three years club secretary of Queen’s Park Football Club, looking after the national stadium at Hampden.

During this time, he was involved in an initiative which saw booze being banned from the stadium – a rule which was soon upscaled to the rest of the country and is still in place today.

However, he said that he was being disillusioned with the post.

He said: “Increasingly, my job was becoming one of managing a decaying property ... also, it is one thing to have a hobby in your spare time, but it is not neccessarily a good idea to make it your full-time job.”

Intriguingly, it was football which brought about his involvement with the church.

In that interview in 2001, he told us: “It was while I was involved in full-time football in 1981 when I had a conversion experience in, of all places, Jerusalem.

“I was there to watch Scotland playing Israel in a World Cup qualifier. That was a big turning point in my life, it led eventually to a change in career direction. I think really you can see things from different angles.

“Although I enjoy football and refereeing, the Gospel is much more important.”

However, his continued involvement with refereeing in the Borders – something he did right up until the end of last season – saw him earn much admiration and respect.

One touching tribute following his death came from former footballer and now referee, Craig Lowrie.

He wrote on his Facebook post: “One of the nicest men I’ve ever met. In my playing days he would always try calm me down before I did or said something stupid, without flashing his cards.

“(He) always stopped to speak in the street. ‘Poacher turned gamekeeper’ were his words when I became a referee and I had the pleasure in two cup finals of having Frank on my line.

“Frank gave up a lot of his time for the Border Amateur League. True gentleman that will be sadly missed. RIP Frank.”

Frank passed away on Wednesday at the Margaret Kerr Unit, and is survived by his wife Alexis, daughters Lisa and Laura, son Alistair, grandchildren Connor and Amy and his mother Sheelagh.

After a private cremation, there will be a Service of Thanksgiving in Ancrum Parish Church on Friday, December 1, at 1pm, to which all family and friends are invited, family flowers only, however, the family has said donations may be made in aid of the Margaret Kerr Unit, if so desired.