Elizabeth Pfohl Campbell never quit pushing the limits of public television and education. The founder of WETA-TV — the first Public Broadcasting Service station for the nation’s capital — and former Mary Baldwin University dean left an inspiring legacy when she died January 9 at age 101.
Campbell began the journey toward launching WETA with an appointment to the Greater Washington Educational Television Association board in 1956. A year later, she became the president, and in 1961 WETA received its license and went on the air. The station, the capital area’s first Public Broadcasting Service channel and one of the most prominent in the country, produced notable programs under Campbell’s leadership.
Campbell remained involved with WETA until close to her death. She never accepted a paycheck during her long association with the station.
Campbell, who grew up in Salem, North Carolina, where she went to Salem College, served as Mary Baldwin’s dean from 1929 to 1936. Just 26 when she started in the position, Campbell worked with Martha Stackhouse (later Grafton) to establish a student government association and wrote the first official student handbook, which included the college’s Honor Code.
In 1936, Campbell married Edmund Campbell, the son of Mary Baldwin University’s Board of Trustees Chair H.D. Campbell. Edmund Campbell was a successful lawyer who fought and won the case against massive resistance to racial integration of Virginia’s public schools in the 1950s.
In 1948, Elizabeth Campbell was elected to the Arlington school board, becoming the first woman to serve on an elected school board in Virginia. She led the board for two of her three terms.
Campbell was honored in a variety of ways. She was named “Washingtonian of the Year” by Washingtonian magazine in 1978, won an Emmy, and, in 1999, was named in the “First Ladies Salute to First Women” by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and the National First Ladies Library.
On the WETA Web site, Campbell is quoted about her work ethic: “Don’t look backward or clutter up your life with regrets and resentments. Put into your work all that you have of interest, enthusiasm, hope, faith, determination and love.”
For more about Elizabeth Campbell, go to www.weta.org.