Martha Carol Campbell (nee Sidebottom), or “Mar” or “Mrs. Campbell,” as she was affectionately known to countless family members, friends, third wheels, teammates, classmates, best friends, enemies, freeloaders, runaways, and grandkids, died peacefully at home surrounded by family at 9:57 pm est on Monday, March 27, 2023.
The heart and soul of a sprawling modern American clan, Martha was a loving mother and moral guide to nine children, grandmother to 18, and mother-in-law, great grandmother, step-grandmother, friend, consigliere, godmother, and soothsayer to many more. Through 78 short years on earth, Martha was an angel in disguise who spread joy, humor, kindness, wit, generosity, and warmth to all she encountered.
Among her countless endearing qualities, one of Martha’s most remarkable was her thoughtfulness. Always putting others before herself, Martha never forgot a birthday, graduation, or special moment across a decades-long panorama of lives touched, lessons learned, love doled out, and family bonds forged. She was well known for always wearing a smile, treating every child and neighbor as equals, and spontaneously finding four-leaf clovers, which she framed and gifted to many who had the good fortune to receive (and most still have to this day).
Across a five-state swath from the early 1970s to the present day, Martha was a beloved materfamilias and surrogate mother figure to countless neighborhood boys and girls. She fostered a truly open-door household, in which it was not uncommon to see kids, dogs, and bicycles (and cops) coming and going at any hour of the day or night. In fact, it’s been said that the Campbell house was a temporary home to more Dunwoody runaways than any other in the city’s distinguished history.
Growing up in Edgewood, Kentucky as the third child of seven, “Marty Side-wood from Edge-bottom” developed her boundless optimism, zany sense of humor, and fondness for family from an early age. Shocked by her father’s sudden death when she was only 11, Martha and her siblings rallied around their mother who shepherded the family through hard times with strong morals and great appreciation for storytelling, singalongs, and April Fool’s day pranks.
Through these early childhood experiences, Martha cultivated a love of singing, laughing, family camaraderie, and entertaining an active imagination. Her many original children’s stories were the stuff of family legend, as she regaled little ones with colorful tales such as “Homer Globberschnoot” and “The Princess and the Pearl,” stories which came to her, she said, in her dreams. To those who knew her best, Martha’s dreams were famously vivid, inspiring, and often terrifying.
Martha was also a devoted wife to her husband Jay for just shy of 55 years, which is even more noteworthy considering they honeymooned by going bowling in Columbus, Ohio after a Thanksgiving wedding. Together they achieved a rare feat in today’s world, managing to stick together through thick and thin, while feeding, educating, and raising nine mostly functioning, healthy children to adulthood. Martha was endlessly proud of her kids.
Her light never shined brighter than when she held a baby in her arms. Martha’s embrace was magical. She could quickly turn an infant’s tears to giggles, and she did exactly that for more babies than anyone can count. Friends and relatives would bring their newborns just to feel the nurturing warmth that Martha delivered so effortlessly, oftentimes ending with the new parent walking away feeling confident and refreshed.
Though love was her speciality, she could easily reign in the “vicious kids” (as Jay would refer to them) with a quick quip, seamless threat, or reminder of the golden rule. No frown lasted long with Martha, as the second she heard a kid cry, whether from a sibling’s physical or emotional beatdown or just being told no, she would immediately break into a verse of “happy days are here again” and thus diffuse the situation through shame or amusement.
No matter how many times Jay would tell her, “Mar, turn around and drop kick them,” she never “took the bait.” She had the patience of Job and a heart of gold, but both were constantly tested. She once hit a tree with a rental car on a family vacation because she was simultaneously trying to reverse out of a parking spot and reach into the backseat to slap some sense into an offending child. She didn’t connect with the kid, but she sure did connect with the oak.
Martha’s dedication to children went far beyond her own family, as she spent years volunteering with the Catholic Church, St. Vincent De Paul society, and the Dekalb County Department of Family and Children Services, among many other causes. Though she saw horrors in her cases with DFACs, she never brought that pain home with her. She gave abundantly to a wide range of charities, and was perhaps one of the greatest Christmas present givers in human history. Martha’s Christmas shopping was a prodigious year-round affair, culminating annually in squeals of joy from the long line of children and friends in her life.
Martha was also a master of family logistics and multitasking, long before cell phones and digital maps. She was often known to make impromptu meals for the entire Dunwoody High School varsity boys and girls basketball teams, throughout the 90s and 2000s. In the early 80s, she once coached three sons to a youth soccer championship, despite the clear lack of talent, with a baby in her arms and two toddlers at her ankles, an act for which she was featured in the Kentucky Post.
In her later years, Martha embraced social media and spent hours reconnecting with friends and relatives and updating them on the exploits and successes of her children and grandchildren. She loved sending Christmas cards, sometimes with outlandish details, and was always quick to express gratitude with a handwritten letter or thank you note.
Martha was also a ruthless competitor and gambler on many casino slot machines, most times joined by her sidekick sister, Sara, on a never ending pursuit to “conk them on the heads.” Her love of reading, music, show tunes, and nursery rhymes was constantly on display throughout her life. Car trips with Martha were full of laughter, games, and joyous singing. Her giggles were infectious.
There were several themes throughout Martha’s life that will leave lasting impacts and impressions on all those who knew her. When someone would ask her and Jay why they had 9 children, the answer was simple: “Because we couldn’t have 10.”
To this day, she holds several unauthenticated Dunwoody area records, including in no specific order: most loads of wash laundered and folded within a 25 year window; most kids graduated from Dunwoody High School (9); most gallons of milk and bags of grocery purchased over 25 years (every bag boy in Dunwoody simultaneously laughed and cringed when they saw Martha because they loved her smile but felt the pain of bagging multiple grocery carts full of food); most kids packed into one car without wearing a seat belt; most times the cops were called to the same address for high school parties; most number of Kentucky Derbies attended (see previous record); most pots of spaghetti made for neighborhood kids; most piles of dog vomit and poop picked up in one 12-year period (RIP Aelms); most diapers changed ever in Dunwoody; most ball pythons found in her bed (one time) without dying!; most VHS tapes found hidden in a ceiling post move out; most kids sporting events attended (and almost kicked out of for cheering and challenging!); most crickets ever purchased to be fed to tarantulas; most boxes of fruity pebbles purchased in 25 years; most casseroles cooked in 25 years with only ever exploding one casserole dish; most halloween costumes stored in one closet, resulting in retirement the day after the dreaded jelly bean bag incident of ‘87’; most kids’ friends injured by woodchucks; most number of middle fingers delivered to her husband over a 54 year period; most Christmas presents wrapped this side of Santa; most bags of school lunches ever packed; biggest hatred of ketchup for a family that drowned in ketchup; fastest clocked driveway reverse exit time in Dunwoody history; and finally, most pairs of poopy boys underpants found hidden behind a dresser.
Beyond the records, Martha really was the epitome of motherhood. She brought exceptional meaning to what a mother is, and considered her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren her life’s greatest accomplishment. Her love, wisdom, and wit made a monumentally positive impact on a great number of lives, and her legacy will endure in many hearts from here to eternity. While Martha will be sorely missed, you don’t have to look too far to find her smile or love for life. All you have to do is talk to one of her kids or their friends.
Martha now rejoins her beloved sisters Sara and Patricia Sidebottom, and her mother and father, Elizabeth and William Sidebottom, who preceded her in going to rest with the angels. She is survived by her husband, John “Jay” Campbell; her nine children and spouses, Jay Campbell and Monica Campbell, Sean and Meredith Campbell, Patrick and Tiina Campbell, Sara Campbell, Joseph Campbell and Griselda Chavez, Kevin and Angie Campbell, Michael and Lauren Campbell, Erin and Thomas Smith, and Caitlin and Gregory Graves; her siblings and spouses, Susan and Thomas Grefer, William and Barbara Sidebottom, Daniel and Jan Sidebottom, and Mark and Miriam Sidebottom; and grandchildren Alexandra, Gabriela, Brianna, Nicholas, Collin, Eveliina, Connor, Francisco, Sophia, Samantha, Maxwell, Madeline, William, Ryan, Thomas III, Jack, Benjamin, Lukas, and great granddaughter Rylee, as well as many others in her extended family who all loved her dearly.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations in Martha’s name to:
St. Vincent de Paul Society
2443 Mt. Vernon Rd.
Dunwoody, GA 30338
She is survived by her husband, John “Jay” Campbell; her nine children and spouses, Jay Campbell and Monica Campbell, Sean and Meredith Campbell, Patrick and Tiina Campbell, Sara Campbell, Joseph Campbell and Griselda Chavez, Kevin and Angie Campbell, Michael and Lauren Campbell, Erin and Thomas Smith, and Caitlin and Gregory Graves; her siblings and spouses, Susan and Thomas Grefer, William and Barbara Sidebottom, Daniel and Jan Sidebottom, and Mark and Miriam Sidebottom; and grandchildren Alexandra, Gabriela, Brianna, Nicholas, Collin, Eveliina, Connor, Francisco, Sophia, Samantha, Maxwell, Madeline, William, Ryan, Thomas III, Jack, Benjamin, Lukas, and great granddaughter Rylee, as well as many others in her extended family who all loved her dearly.