Page 1: Biography
Campbell, Mary Greig
This biography, written by Barbara McConachie, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
The small market town of Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland, was the birthplace, on 17 November 1907, of Mary Greig Campbell. Her father, Alexander John Campbell, a doctor, was the third of his family to practise in the area, and married a nurse, Mary’s mother, Joanna Alexander Greig. Childhood memories of this closeknit community surrounded by moor and lowland gave Mary a love of people and the countryside which she retained all her life.
From 1918 to 1924 Mary attended Berwickshire high school, attaining her Higher Leaving Certificate. In 1928 she graduated MA from the University of Edinburgh and in the following year passed the diploma examination at the School of Librarianship, University College, London. For the next four years she worked at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. She then returned to London to a position as registry clerk in the head office of the British Broadcasting Corporation, later supervising the setting up of a central filing system in their Scottish offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.
In June 1939 Mary Campbell emigrated to New Zealand, taking up an appointment she had applied for as cataloguer in the Wellington Public Library. The hills and harbour suited her need for vigorous outdoor activity and she would ‘boost along’ regardless of wind and weather. She was enthusiastic about ships, meticulously noting details of vessels in port. On fine weekends and even not so fine she would ‘hare out’ to Seatoun to sail a small boat.
While in Edinburgh Mary and her (by then widowed) mother had joined the Edinburgh Meeting of the Society of Friends (Quakers). In Wellington she became a member of the local Meeting, and in May 1940 she attended the 32nd General Meeting of the Society. There the society’s testimony against all war was reaffirmed. With other members of the Meeting she supported conscientious objectors at Armed Forces Appeal Board hearings and during detention, assisted interned aliens and their families, and, reflecting her concern for the needs of a post-war world, was an active member of the Quaker Relief and Reconstruction Committee.
In 1944 the New Zealand Council of Organisations for Relief Services Overseas (CORSO) was set up, and Mary was one of three Quaker representatives. For many years Mary – sturdy of build, warmly clad and sensibly shod – took part in the annual fund-raising collection. She found her encounters with the public both uplifting and discouraging. Wartime conditions delayed a long-planned and eagerly awaited reunion with her mother; in early January 1945 Mary received a cable with the news that she had died on New Year’s Day.
A request for New Zealand recruits saw the formation in 1945 of the Friends Ambulance Unit (China) Reinforcements Committee. As secretary, Mary Campbell became the driving force in the venture for the next two years. In 1947 a long-nurtured hope of working in China was realised when she was appointed secretary at the Friends’ Centre, Shanghai. For more than three years she worked tirelessly, coping with the desperate needs of refugees from Central Europe for shelter, food and clothing and supervising the welfare of lost and destitute children at the centre’s receiving home.
In an atmosphere of increasing political tension the Quakers withdrew from their administration of the Shanghai centre and Mary travelled to Britain in May 1950 to report on conditions in China. Delayed by a shortage of shipping berths it was a year before she could return to New Zealand and a position as librarian at Massey Agricultural College, Palmerston North. It was said that hers was a library with a human face and that her concern for order and attention to detail was always mediated by an infectious sense of humour. She continued to make a significant contribution to the Society of Friends and in 1965 joined two Australian Quakers on a mission to South East Asia. After 21 years’ service, Mary, now joint deputy librarian, retired from the university library in 1972. She never married.
Mary Campbell’s life was devoted to education in its widest sense. She sought to be informed, to empathise with people and to seek fair and equitable solutions to social and personal problems. Her home was a haven for those in need of hospitality. In her final years a severe illness curtailed her many activities, and, until her death in Lonsdale Hospital, Foxton, on 22 April 1989, Mary, so capable and compassionate, was herself in need of constant nursing care.