As a breezy Saturday afternoon rehearsal for the Backdoor Playhouse’s production of “She Kills Monsters” begins, the actors on the stage notice something out of the ordinary walk into the theater from the back of the auditorium and make himself at home in the back row. The main thing that makes this small 77-year-old man so out of the ordinary is that, along with his multicolor cable-net sweater and authentic southwestern turquoise bolo, this man is wearing an oversized leprechaun hat atop his head a full two days before St. Patrick’s Day.
This man’s name is Paul Campanis, a Boston native with Greek heritage, an admiring love for the Irish and a compassionate heart for service.
Upon complimenting Campanis on his hat, conversation began with the happy older gentleman. He said that his love for the Irish began when he lived in an Irish Catholic neighborhood while growing up in Boston, Mass.
“I grew up in a Greek conclave surrounded by a sea of Irish Catholics,” Campanis said. “I loved and loved the Irish. They were wonderful people.”
Being a native Greek speaker in an all Irish neighborhood, Campanis said that several of his earliest memories are of working with the Irish people, most notably helping James Michael Curley with his election to mayor of the city of Boston the 1940s. Campanis said that he remembers the campaign staff paying him with candy and sweets rather than with money.
A few years later, Campanis stayed in Boston to go to college at Harvard University. Graduating in only two years with a degree in social relations, Campanis worked his way through school cleaning toilets. He said he enjoyed to work.
“I’m devoted to the working class,” Campanis said. “That’s my class. Why would I want to leave my class? Plus, I thought Harvard with all the status, and jobs and fancy clothes and cars; I thought that was a bunch of [expletive].”
Paul said that the Greeks live in a village culture made up of different classes and that his calling was to always be in the peddler class. It didn’t matter that he was earning a degree from one of the most prestigious schools in the world. What mattered was that he was fulfilling his class structure by helping other people.
Campanis said that his Greek upbringing inspired him to do more with his life than just try to make it big in the business world.
He claimed that wanted to be a “Road Scholar.” Campanis said that as long as you are successful as a human being and help other people, then, and only then, will you have a fruitful and prosperous life.
Upon graduation from Harvard, Campanis took to the road to begin to help people in his quest to fulfill his lifelong philosophy.
Taking a job at Polaroid, Campanis worked standing up for underdog minority employees’ rights as a company union steward. Campanis held this job for the final two years of his 13 year stint at Polaroid. This job of defending minorities would foreshadow one of the most influential and heartbreaking moments in Campanis’ life.
After leaving his job at Polaroid, Campanis began teaching college classes, first at Syracuse University and then in his hometown at Boston University.
While at BU, Campanis defended the tenure case of an African American professor who had applied for tenure, but whose application and papers had disappeared the night before the hearing. Campanis claims that this event was intentional and refers to the situation as “racist.”
Because of the events leading from this situation, both Campanis and the African American professor were fired from the university.
In protest, Campanis began to sell apples on campus in front of the statue of Martin Luther King Jr., who was a graduate of BU. He said the apple was reprehensive of the tree of life from which we all come from.
Since wife passed away eight years ago, Campanis has dedicated his life to volunteer work and service.