De’Arcey “Dee” Campbell has been a part of our riverfront community all his life. As a young man growing up in Old Town Alexandria, Dee led what’s been described as a “Huck Finn” lifestyle, with the Potomac River as his playground. He was graduated from George Washington High School in 1944, and started rowing at the Old Dominion Boat Club, where high school rowing started in Alexandria in 1947. The photos from that era show a cheerful and muscular young athlete, rowing everything from singles to eights.
“It was the most miserable time I ever had. I must have caught a dozen crabs … and I swore if I ever got back to shore I’d never get in a shell again. The next day I was out there. Rowing gets in your blood …”
In 1959, Dee Campbell began his coaching career at Francis Hammond High School. He coached boys crew there (that’s all there was at the time), building a program to challenge George Washington, the other high school in town. They rowed out of buildings at the Torpedo Factory which were converted for crew use. Dee moved to the new T.C. Williams High School in 1971 where he coached boys fours.
In 1975, Dee began to coach girls crew, which had started just a year before. That year his varsity eight won the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia, the Super Bowl of high school crew. They’d win four more—the latest in 2002—and his junior eights won so many times that the girls junior eight trophy at Stotesbury is now the Dee Campbell Cup. Dee’s crews won nine national championships in the 80s and 90s, and numerous medals in state, regional, US and Canadian regattas.
There's a great interview with Dee, from July 2007, in the Alexandria Oral History archives.
The Washington Post recognized Dee as All-Met First Team Girls Coach in 1991 and 1992, and Coach of the Year in 1996. His undefeated 1997 senior eight became the first and only girls eight to win the Stotesbury Cup, the SRAA Nationals and the CSSRA Canadian Nationals in the same season. The next year the senior eight won Canada (for the third consecutive year) and went to England as the first Virginia team to compete in the Henley Women’s Regatta.
But beyond the medals and the championships, the intense workouts and regattas, Dee had a unique personal bond with his rowers. They tell of the time in 1972 when his varsity four wanted to go to the Canadian Championships but couldn’t get support from the school. Dee offered to coach them, found them a shell and trailer, and even contributed to funding the trip. “He made us believe that despite obstacles, there were still options,” wrote a member of that crew.
Others tell of how he helped them through tough times, always encouraging, always supportive. In his role as surrogate father to some of the girls he coached, he even walked one down the aisle on her wedding day.
Dee has been generous with more than just his time. On more than one occasion he turned over his coaching stipend to help the team purchase training equipment, and he made a significant personal contribution toward the purchase of a new Vespoli shell in 2001. Dee also made a generous donation to help start the TC Crew Endowment, to ensure the rowing experience will be there for future generations of youth.
Dee Campbell has touched the lives of hundreds of young Alexandrians in his 46 year coaching career. He taught them the value of teamwork and constant effort, and most of all made them believe in themselves. It is with admiration and gratitude that we proudly affix his name to our boathouse, the Dee Campbell Rowing Center.