Doctor faced adversity with grace

For those who knew Dr. Perlita Micu Campbell, of Evanston, she was a woman ahead of her time, not afraid to face adversity with grace and dignity.

“She was extraordinary,” said her daughter Rina Campbell of Evanston and an Evanston Township High School graduate. “If you look up ‘Super Mom” in the dictionary, she would be there.”

Perlita Campbell, 76, died Aug. 1 after being diagnosed with incurable, anaplastic thyroid cancer. She was born in the Philippines on Oct. 22, 1937 and was the eldest of eight children. A 1959 graduate of the Manila Central University College of Medicine, she completed her internal medicine residency at Northwestern University. In the summer of 1971, Dr. Campbell joined the staff of St. Francis Hospital in Evanston.

She and her husband Dr. Thomas Campbell, who loved to travel, maintained a private medical practice together. Married in 1966 wearing a handmade dress, Perlita built her life around her husband and their three children, Rina Campbell, Amy Campbell Brissette of Evanston and Tom Campbell, who resides in Colorado and is a Loyola Academy graduate. Retired in 1996, she is remembered as a devoted grandmother to eight grandchildren, with the youngest, a girl, Zoe, born this past July 17.

“We knew that she was hanging on to be able to meet her youngest grandchild before she left this world,” said Zoe’s mother Amy Campbell Brissette, an ETHS graduate. “She got to hold her.”

As 20-year associates at the Evanston Sheil Catholic Center, Thomas and Perlita were committed volunteers.

“During their time here, they have supported the center and its mission to Northwestern and participated in a wide range of events from fundraisers to lectures and discussions to concerts and worship services,” said Mary Katharine Deeley of Winnetka, pastoral associate and director of Christ the Teacher Institute for Sheil.

“Perlita never failed to offer her help when we needed it,” Deeley said. “Frequently, she would call our director of operations simply to let her know that she was available for anything we might need.

“We will miss her greatly.”

When she was diagnosed in March of last year with thyroid cancer, Perlita Campbell looked to her faith, buttressed by the community she served.

“They [her parents] were always helping others, they were always taking care of priests and nuns and never charged them,” Rina Campbell said. “As devoted Catholics, they were always giving back.”

Perlita Campbell prioritized women’s health before the practice was common.

“My mom was doing women’s medicine before it was even a thing,” Campbell Brissette said. “She was a trailblazer because women just didn’t do that in the ’60s.”

Dr. Mitchel P. Byrne of Evanston, former chairman of the St. Francis Hospital department of surgery, met Perlita Campbell at St. Francis as she was making rounds in 1971. She was filling in for her husband that day.

“Looking back, I realized that she was an ‘intensivist’ before that specialty had been developed,” Byrne said. “Growing up in the Philippines during World War II made for a level of work that served her well in her busy life.

“Perlita M. Campbell was an amazing person.”

At her Aug. 6 Sheil Catholic Center memorial ceremony, she was described as an eldest daughter who mentored her siblings during their childhood. During World War II, the family fled from enemies, hiding in dugouts on a forest floor.

Perlita grew up being encouraged to seek education while mastering English.

“She was really like the matriarch of the family,” said Rina Campbell. “All of her younger siblings looked up to her like a parent.

“She loved children,” Rina added. “She was always just enamored of them. I think that made her radiant. She just loved being around people.”

Loved ones admire how Perlita Campbell was gently influenced by the civil rights movement.

“Racism, in school, she was a trailblazer and didn’t let anything stop her,” said Amy Campbell Brissette.

“My parents were an interracial couple in Detroit in the 1960s,” added Amy’s sister Rina. “They would try to go on a date and they were run out of movie theaters.

“But they found each other, they fell in love with each other and they fell in love at a time when it was completely forbidden.”

“She must have been influenced in some way [by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.],” added Amy. “Growing up, my favorite song was ‘We Shall Overcome.’ and I know that was something that she instilled in us. She was definitely one for peace in silent resistance.

“It’s just strength of character.”

Amy Campbell Brissette appreciates America’s “melting pot.”

“My sister married a German, my brother is married to a Chinese woman, my husband is predominantly Russian and Jamaican, so we have a very multi-cultural family that we’re very proud about,” she said.

Into adulthood with her siblings, Amy Campbell Brissette added, “We never saw color.”

Donations in memory of Dr. Perlita Campbell will assist projects she was committed to.

Memorials can be sent to Presence Health Foundation, Attn: Patti Sotos, 200 S. Wacker Drive, Chicago, Ill., 60606.

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