Anne Campbell: Still active at 85 and passionate about Aiken and helping others

Mar. 18—Life is good for Anne Campbell, who celebrated her 85th birthday last October and unlike some people, isn't reluctant to disclose her age.

"I'm in a great place of being thoroughly content," she said during an interview last month in her tastefully decorated home, which has some whimsical touches, including a statue of a butler holding a silver tray and bride-and-groom pigs.

An Aiken resident for more than 30 years, Campbell doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling in the past even though it was glamorous and exhilarating.

She was married for 59 years to the debonair Cot Campbell, who was inducted into thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame only months before his death in 2018.

As the president of Dogwood Stable, Cot was a pioneer in the development of racing partnerships, and the groups put together by him campaigned many talented horses.

They included 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, 1990 Preakness Stakes winner Summer Squall and one of Summer Squall's daughters, Storm Song, who received an Eclipse Award as the champion filly of 1996 after her triumph in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Another Dogwood horse, Inlander, won an Eclipse Award as 1987's champion steeplechaser.

Together, the Campbells traveled the world, visiting places such as Dubai and Tokyo while enjoying the comforts of luxury hotels.

"Everywhere we went, we went first class," Anne Campbell said.

But she wasn't jut along for the thrilling ride.

It was her responsibility to entertain Dogwood's clients, making sure they enjoyed the racing experience whether their horses won or lost while her husband took care of stable business and talked to trainers and jockeys.

Campbell's sunny demeanor and patience, along with her ability to carry on interesting conversations during lunches and dinners, helped close deals and gain investors.

"I was absolutely an equal partner with Cot in making it work," said Campbell of her role in Dogwood Stable's success. "I really liked people, and I was very aware that a lot of our clients came into racing knowing nothing. They felt self-conscious and intimidated, and I was able to put them at ease."

When not involved in Dogwood activities, Campbell devoted a lot of her time to charitable causes.

"My parents were both extremely involved people in the community, and they cared about the little guy," said Campbell, who was born and raised in LaGrange, Georgia. "When I was around 13 years old, my mother used to take me to the jail with her to read the Bible to prisoners.

"She also took on families that needed help that she came across and sponsored them," Campbell continued. "They would come to our house to have lunch or spend the afternoon. And we were always the ones that kept the missionaries that came for revivals."

Campbell introduced Saratoga WarHorse's program for military veterans with emotional wounds to Aiken.

She also teamed up with a close friend, Bill Reynolds, to conduct the successful Horseplay and Buckaroo Ball fundraisers.

Those and her other efforts benefited many organizations, among them the New York Race Track Chaplaincy and the United Way of Aiken County.

And Campbell was celebrated on numerous occasions for her contributions.

For example, in 2016, the Saratoga WarHorse Foundation honored her during its Blue Spangled Evening in Saratoga Springs New York.

Then, in 2017, the Women's Leadership Council, now known as Women United, honored Campbell as their Woman of the Year.

She also was a recipient of an Aiken Award from the City of Aiken in 2019.

Last year, Aiken Senior Life Services named its new headquarters, which is on East Pine Long Road, the Anne and Cot Campbell Center.

For the most part, however, since the death her husband, Anne Campbell has been keeping a lower profile.

"It was such a shift from living the high life and going everywhere to just being a person, but it really wasn't too much of a challenge for me," she said. "I think the key was that the whole time I was married to Cot, I had my own persona and my own interests that were different from his. He appreciated all those things about me and liked the fact that I was independent, so I had a head start there. I knew my life was going to be so different, but the memories were so great."

Campbell travels less, but hasn't lost her desire for adventure.

During a trip to Africa, she visited gorillas in the wild in Rwanda

"Cot had never cared much about going there, but I cared passionately about going," Campbell said. "It was so exciting."

She also has been to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.

"That is my favorite place on earth," said Campbell of city. "It was dynamite."

In August, she'll be heading to Portugal for a 13-day cruise from Lisbon to Barcelona, Spain.

"I want to stay connected to things that have purpose and energy and excitement," Campbell said. "I don't want to bore people. I don't want to get old and start talking about my ailments all the time. I don't want to retire from life because I'm 85. I want to have fun. I want to be fun."

For 35 years Campbell taught a Bible study class for women, but said she gave that up recently because "everything has its season, and I didn't have anything else to say."

Even so, Campbell still is enthusiastic about sharing her faith with others.

"I am crazy about Jesus," she said. "I want to know everything I can about him, and of course, I want to be like him. He's my hero. I find that God's presence fills a big gap in my life."

Campbell visits The Place at Shadow Oaks, an assisted living community, once a month to talk to residents with dementia about the Bible.

"It's really simple stuff," said Campbell, who is a member of Aiken's First Baptist Church. "I give them an inspirational message about how much Jesus loves them, and I tell them that no matter how bad things look or how hard things are, Jesus is always there."

Campbell also is a member of the United Way of Aiken County's board of directors.

"In connection with the United Way, I get to go once a month to Millbrook Elementary School and read to the kindergartners," Campbell said.

Because she is concerned about Aiken's future, Campbell got involved in the movement to stop Project Pascalis, which achieved its goal.

"I had a pretty major role in getting petitions signed and I went to (Aiken) City Council meetings," Campbell said. "I wrote a letter to the editor (that appeared in the Aiken Standard)."

To relax, Campbell plays bridge, Shanghai rummy and mahjong, and she's talented enough as a pianist to tackle Dave Brubeck's arrangements of songs when she feels the need for a challenge.

In addition, staying in touch with her family is a priority for Campbell. She has two daughters, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Two more great-grandchildren are due this spring, one in April and the other in May.

"I love, love, love, love my home, and I never want to leave it (for an extended period)," Campbell said. "I'm really happy in my house. I feel like I'm in my little nest. I also think Aiken is the best place in the world for me. I want to live here the rest of my life."