Elizabeth City Feels Like Home for Retired U.S. Coast Guard Couple


Meet the Campbells

Throughout Don Campbell’s 33 years with the U.S. Coast Guard, he and his wife, Bette Lou, have moved seven times, calling five places home: Fort Myers Beach, New Orleans, Clearwater, Los Angeles and Elizabeth City. When it came time to retire, it was fitting that they made their permanent home where Don concluded his military career – Elizabeth City, an official “Coast Guard City,” so designated for its support of the Coast Guard men and women assigned to the area.

“Moving, buying a house, making friends, retiring – that’s a lot,” said Don. “Elizabeth City felt like home. We had bought a house, wanted to stay and make a difference in our community.”

The Campbell’s home in Elizabeth City’s downtown area is one of the “newest” on the block. The 1949 Cape Cod sits next to a home that served as a hospital during the Civil War. Within walking distance are shops, restaurants, art galleries, the library, courthouse, post office, banks and perhaps the city’s biggest draw – the Pasquotank River.

Being close to the water is just fine with Don, who began his military career as a Small Boat Coxswain for the Search-and- Rescue Station at Fort Myers Beach, Florida. After graduating with honors from the Aviation Structural Mechanic School in Elizabeth City, he worked his way through the U.S. Coast Guard ranks to Aviation Structural Mechanic Chief, Chief Warrant Officer and Lieutenant. He retired in 2009 as a Lieutenant Commander at the Aviation Logistics Center’s Engineering Services Division.

Don has some dramatic stories to tell: Plucking a crashed seaplane crew from the canals of New Orleans, just minutes after his final search-and- rescue qualification check ride; flying surveillance over Port Marina Del Ray during O.J. Simpson’s famous live TV chase along the Los Angeles Freeway; and being among the first crews airborne when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded just seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center.

“I was out on the ramp at Air Station Clearwater as we watched the launch. When I saw the contrail split apart I knew immediately that something had gone terribly wrong,” said Don.

These days, life is less taxing, but equally rewarding. Bette Lou has served more than 20 years with the Greater Albemarle Area Chapter of the American Red Cross and has volunteered with the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce and Pasquotank Elementary School. Monthly, she and Don join fellow members of the Cann Memorial Presbyterian Church to prepare and serve home-cooked meals for neighbors in need. And with a keen interest in horticulture (both are Master Gardeners), Don has lent his talents to the Elizabeth City Urban Forestry Commission, while Bette Lou worked with the beautification efforts of Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc.

For fun, there’s kayak fishing on the Pasquotank River (a favorite activity of Don’s), catching a concert or play at Arts of the Albemarle and tending to the blueberry bushes, vegetables and fruit trees they grow in their yard.

When deciding where to retire, Bette Lou said they didn’t have to look far.

“People of Elizabeth City were very welcoming to us, which made us feel at home, and the Coast Guard and civilian communities blended so well. We had already lived here almost 15 years, made friends and were involved in the community.”

“So,” she said, “we decided to stay.”