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Former city executive working dream job

David and Shelly Campbell in 2012 wearing traditional clothing from Mauritius, where David Campbell served as political officer at the U.S. Embassy in the island nation. (Courtesy of David Campbell)

David and Shelly Campbell in 2012 wearing traditional clothing from Mauritius, where David Campbell served as political officer at the U.S. Embassy in the island nation. (Courtesy of David Campbell)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — David Campbell, who served under three Albuquerque mayors, first as an assistant, then a city attorney and later chief administrative officer, finally has his dream job – and it’s nowhere near City Hall.

Since age 18, Campbell dreamed of being a diplomat in the United States Foreign Service. “It took me 40 years,” he said this week, “but now I’m living my dream.”

Campbell, 60, recently finished his first tour as political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, about 600 miles east of Madagascar. There, he worked on strategies to counter Somali piracy, as well as on issues related to human rights, human trafficking, and women’s empowerment projects.

For the last five months, he has been learning Spanish in preparation for his next job as vice consul at the U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Starting in April, he will deal with immigration issues for locals who want to travel or live in the United States, and he will provide services to Americans living in or passing through Ecuador.

“My wife, Shelly, was with the Albuquerque Public Schools for her whole career and was a principal at Comanche Elementary School before she retired in 2006. Our kids are grown and have their own lives and careers. So at some point we looked at our empty nest and we looked at each other and said, let’s do something else before we have grandchildren. I had this unfulfilled 40-year-old dream, and there was still time to do it. And Shelly, who was born and raised in Albuquerque, said ‘let’s go!’ ”

Campbell, a self-described “Army brat,” was born in California, the oldest of four siblings from an infantry officer father and a homemaker mother. Military assignments had the family moving from coast to coast, as well as living in France.

“To have lived overseas from age 7 to 11 gave me a taste for life in other countries and learning other languages,” and planted the seed to someday become a diplomat.

Campbell was a high school sophomore when the family relocated to Albuquerque. He graduated in 1972 from Highland High School and then attended Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

While he didn’t slide right into a post-college job as a diplomat, he did serve as an ambassador of peace. Campbell joined the Peace Corps in 1976 and served as an English teacher in the African country of Cameroon, then as a Peace Corps trainer in Morocco and a trainer in the South Pacific Tonga Islands.

Interestingly, Campbell’s daughter, Heather, who is getting married Saturday, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan and currently works for the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., as the desk officer for Belize and the Caribbean. His son, Damon, is a civil engineer in Miami.

After his Peace Corps stint, Campbell returned to Albuquerque and earned his master’s degree in public administration at the University of New Mexico 1981 and soon snagged a job in City Hall as assistant to then Mayor Harry Kinney and former chief administrative officer Frank Kleinhenz.

For the next 25 years, Campbell kept busy. He got his degree in law from University of New Mexico, was city attorney under former Mayor Louis Saavedra, ran a private law practice specializing in land use cases, and volunteered on numerous nonprofit boards and government improvement committees.

He also applied to and was accepted for admission to the U.S. Foreign Service; but in 2009, two weeks before his training was to begin, newly elected Mayor Richard Berry asked him to serve as chief administrative officer, which he did until March of 2011, when the Foreign Service called again.

By this time, Campbell was getting close to the cutoff age of 59 for new Foreign Service officers. “I would have loved to stay working for Mayor Berry, but I pretty much knew I could no longer defer my dream,” he said.

“It was now or never.”

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