Grand Slam Club-Ovis Executive Director Dennis Campbell passed away on February 3, 2018 at his home in Alabama. He died of a melanoma mole on his back that metastasized despite repeated surgical procedures to eliminate the cancer as it progressed. The disease was discovered in 2014 but Dennis kept it to himself and vigorously continued with his leadership of GSCO and his hunting.
Dennis resolutely expressed that he wanted to “live (fully) until he died” and indeed he did. In his last year he went to South Baja, Mexico twice, took a safari in Cameroon, Africa and another in South Africa and continued both his hunting and conservation missions. For much of his last four years he organized and bolstered GSCO to be an even greater and better organization after his passing. This great man and my friend gave to his end. He even gave $100,000.00 to the Grand Slam Club/Ovis Dennis Campbell Conservation Fund to begin the fund at his death. Dennis requested that any sort of memorial contribution be made to that 501(c)(3) fund for conservation activities in his memory. He did this to encourage others to get involved with wildlife conservation by sending a tax-deductible contribution to this fund at GSCO, P.O. Box 310727, Birmingham, AL 35231. Chrissie and I attended his funeral along with some of the greatest mountain hunters of all time. Conservation Force has contributed to the memorial conservation fund in Dennis’ honor just as he requested.
Dennis was a deeply religious man who served God as well as wildlife and the hunting community. He was a church council member and deacon, he served as an adult Sunday School teacher for over 25 years, and he even published a book of proverbs—along with other activities too numerous to describe here.
Dennis was appointed as the unpaid Executive Director of Grand Slam Club in 1990. He was a life member of FNAWS, served on its board and even as its First Vice President. Under his leadership the Grand Slam Club started, then ended its cooperative alliance/partnership with FNAWS, evolved into GSCO, and grew from 400 to over 5,600 members today.
Dennis was an extraordinary hunter who took more than 400 species and won the Pantheon Award as well as the Caldesi Award. That said, and as the funeral papers stated, “Dennis considered himself more a conservationist than a hunter.” His early conservation activities can be traced back to 1977 when he served as director of the Alabama Wildlife Federation and started its Life Membership program, becoming the first life member. He was also a founding member of the prominent Alabama Chapter of SCI in the late ‘70s. During his 27 years as the executive director of GSCO that organization donated over nine million dollars to conservation as well as more than half a million dollars to Conservation Force over the past 20 years. Dennis was dedicated to the message that “HUNTING IS THE #1 CONSERVATION TOOL,” a message on a giant banner across the full stage for the duration of each GSCO Convention in the past few years. He made a special point of broadcasting that conservation message and displaying that conservation banner as if it was his legacy wish while, unbeknownst to all but a few, his cancer took its toll. When it was first displayed he announced it would be displayed the following two years and it has been.
Dennis prided himself with the fact that the GSCO Super Slam programs incentivize hunters to hunt more and to hunt more species and said, “Through these programs, we are a major contributor to the North American Wildlife Conservation Model.” His interest extended beyond the 29 North American big game animals to game and ungulate species worldwide. The GSCO board of directors established a formula that quantified that the award programs “generate more than $80 million annually for wildlife conservation” ($100 million at the Convention in 2018). Dennis deeply believed that “trophy hunting” was saving the hunted game and its habitat that there was an economic battle with livestock and “progress” for space and survival. The hunting pays the underlying bills—it is conservation and it is the number one tool for conservation. As Dennis would say, the hunting is the reason for game to still be there or to bring it back.
Dennis was a true friend to Conservation Force, which says as much about the conservationist that he was as it says about us. He cared. GSCO began sponsoring the printing costs of this BULLETIN in 2005, after the death of H.I.H. Prince Abdorreza, who had been bearing those costs. Dennis himself was a personal donor to Conservation Force from time to time, and GSCO has provided $25,000 to $50,000 a year in support over most of the past two decades. That has made it one of our big five supporters in most years and he was proud of this fact. He wanted to give more and hoped to be one of the two or three top donors, which GSCO was at one time.
As early as Conservation Force’s successful argali litigation against animal extremist organizations in 2001, Dennis wrote:
“John, I absolutely applaud your efforts…. I guess what this really does is prove what kind of man you are, which is totally unselfish and a true conservationist. I hope that one day I can be judged as a true conservationist, just as I have judged you to be. Your efforts, unselfishness, and dedication have proven to me your sincere motives and extreme integrity. I consider it a privilege to be able to call you a friend. You will succeed, or maybe I should say you will continue to be successful, because of your attributes I have mentioned above…”
Five years later, 2006, Dennis wrote: “John, You amaze me in what you have accomplished for us all.”
Then the real crusher came the day after his death: “You are going to find out that I left on Saturday. I of course wanted you to be one of the first people to know, and wanted to make some brief comments to you. We go way back, so wow, where can I start with a person like you? You have been one of the greatest influences in the hunting industry of any person who has ever lived. That wonderful Chrissie has just stood there right by your side, and if God ever put two people together, He sure did you two! Without her support, you could never have accomplished what you have to date.
“To say I have extreme respect for you is just an understatement. I have always felt a special connection to you in that regard. You have shown respect for me, and you seem to realize that I actually “get it” when it comes to all you have done. Again, your influence has been totally immeasurable. All I can say is keep it up, and I know you will..”
I repeat that his words reflect, like a mirror, more about Dennis than about Chrissie and me. What a great man and friend – and conservationist.