Felicia Campbell, the longest-serving professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, recently died at age 89 of complications from Covid-19.
Campbell originally was hired to teach English but was intrigued by and studied the motivations of gamblers (particularly older players) and wrote her dissertation on the positive effects of gambling. She stated that the gambling impulse is the same inclination toward risk that moves civilization forward. As she wrote in The Futurist in 1976, older gamblers were “a gallant breed who, far from wasting their meager resources gambling, are making a choice for life itself.” She said they experienced community, a zest for life and a boost in self-esteem in gambling.
Campbell was born in Cuba City, Wisconsin. She worked as a fountain clerk in her parents’ drugstore and pharmacy, and earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in English at the University of Wisconsin. Campbell joined the Marines and was honorably discharged six months later, tossing her military duffel bag out of the train window on her way home.
Campbell was the founder and executive director of the Far West Popular and American Culture Association, and organized its annual conference. Programs ranged from a symposium on Frank Zappa or the armadillo cult of Texas (featuring live armadillos); to a Tarzan night including an appearance by Johnny Weissmuller to a session on the semiotics of bumper stickers. She also taught chaos theory and detective novels; science fiction; Asian and African-American literature and pop culture.
She was married for 10 years to Ritzman Campbell, a craps and poker dealer who had been a student. They had three children before divorcing.
Campbell sued the university for back pay upon discovering she and her female colleagues were paid less than the men. When the case was settled a decade later, at age 52 she used some of the money to finance a 300-mile trek through the Himalayas, even though she’d never camped before. She told a reporter she used the trip to test her theories. “The bottom line was that risk-taking could be a preservative impulse, breaking the monotony, allowing normal people to control their own destiny, to be intensely alive for a moment,” similar to gambling, she said.