A recent entry on Memphis magazine’s blog tells the story of a reporter named Phil Campbell, who had built a name for himself a dozen years ago at sister publication The Memphis Flyer for his “offbeat” reporting. Among other stunts, Campbell visited the town of Phil Campbell, Ala., named 100 years ago for a man whose work crew was laying railroad track nearby in exchange for building a stop in the as-yet-unnamed town.
According to the Memphis story, Campbell became so taken with the town during his trip he decided to track down every other “Phil Campbell” he could find in the U.S. (a group of 22, which included one “Phyllis”) and held a Phil Campbell Convention in the town in 1995. Campbell recently recalled the experience to Parade magazine, reminiscing on the town’s warm reception to all “the Phils” (they even had a parade in their honor with full police escort) as well as his plans for organizing another Phil Campbell convention in conjunction with the town’s 100th anniversary celebration, initially planned for the weekend of June 17, 2011. Invitations to join the festivities went out to 385 people named Phil, Phillip, or Phyllis Campbell, but before the anniversary party could take place, nature interceded.
On April 27th, a devastating tornado leveled the town of Phil Campbell, killing 26 people, injuring more than 60, leveling almost every structure but the water tower and a few others, and causing more than $30 million in wind and water damage. The festivities were off, but the Phil Campbells of the world wouldn’t be deterred.
What had been planned as a party turned into a concerted effort by the Phils to rebuild “their” town. Brooklyn Phil Campbell set up a website to gather funds and bring awareness to the effort, called ImWithPhil.com. Nottingham, England, Phil Campbell, a video producer, edited a YouTube of 11 different Phil Campbells declaring their support for the town. Meanwhile, 42-year-old software engineer Phil Campbell – from nearby Birmingham, Ala. – and his wife packed their car with bottled water and Walmart gift cards and made the two-hour drive to Phil Campbell (the town). “As I was coming toward the town, I saw the Phil Campbell water tower standing, and I thought, ‘How bad can it be?’” he told Parade. “Then I went over the next hill and it was devastation as far as the eye could see.”
So far, the “I’m With Phil” effort has attracted Phils from all over the world, including a pastor from Coffs Harbour, Australia, who will travel more than 9,000 miles to join the other Phils in their recovery effort. Great Britain Phil will also be on hand, and interest from other foreign Phils has come from as far away as Ireland and Greece.
Another pastor named Phil Campbell – this one at Northern Light United Church in Juneau, Alaska – wrote an editorial about his plans to travel to Alabama in a recent edition of the Juneau Empire. “I still don’t know that my name captures my essence, but it is a humble realization that because of the fluke of sharing a name with a hurting town, I can do something to help,” Campbell related. “John Wesley said, ‘Do all the good you can, whenever you can,’ and as a Phil Campbell right now, I can do the most good for the town whose name I share.”
Find out more about the Phils, their effort, and how you can help (regardless of your name) at ImWithPhil.com.