Sheldon Campbell, Zoo Society President, Dies

Times Staff Writer

Sheldon Campbell, president of the San Diego Zoological Society since 1983 and an accomplished author of wildlife books and articles, died Monday, apparently of a heart attack. He was 66.

"He was a man who loved the zoo," said Doug Myers, executive director of the Zoological Society. "We have lost an important tradition at the San Diego Zoo."

Campbell's interest in the world-renowned San Diego Zoo began when, as a teen-ager, he became fascinated with reptiles, especially snakes, said longtime friend and society trustee Bob Ward. Unable to afford tickets, Campbell and boyhood friend Charles Shaw would jump the zoo's fence to get a better glimpse of their favorite creatures, Ward said.

Campbell and Shaw eventually became acquainted with C.A. Perkins, curator of reptiles at the time, who later made the boys apprentices, giving them the chance to worked with the reptile collection.

"He was a native San Diegan who grew up with the zoo," Ward said of Campbell, who first became involved with the society as a trustee in 1968.

In 1974, Campbell and Shaw wrote the book "Snakes of the American West." Shaw died soon after the book was published, and Campbell went on to author two more books, including the national best-seller "Lifeboats to Ararat," which discussed the modern role of zoos as breeding centers for endangered animals.

Campbell also wrote several articles on the preservation of endangered species and on business investments.

Campbell, who was born in San Diego and lived most of his life in the city, was an honored graduate of San Diego State University with a degree in English. He did graduate work in literature at Stanford University.

In the late 1930s, Campbell worked briefly as a reporter for the San Diego Sun, covering the zoo beat, Ward said.

After 20 years as a stockbroker, Campbell retired in 1980 as a vice president for Wagenseller and Durst Inc. firm. He also conducted business management and investment seminars during the 1970s for UCLA's School of Business.

In 1979, Campbell played an important part in organizing a 10-year cultural exchange program between the San Diego Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Assn. that has resulted in the exchange of 70 animals in the last six years. The exchanges brought to San Diego the Chinese golden monkeys, which were featured from November, 1984, through May, 1985.

For the last two years, Campbell had been involved with the Zoo Publishing Program. It recently released "Wild in the City," its first book about animals and zoos.

"The publishing program was his baby and his brainchild," said Ward, editor of "Wild in the City."

"He worked for his beloved zoo until the end," said Betty Jo Williams, president-elect to the Zoological Society and the person who will take over Campbell's duties. "He set an example for all of us."

Besides his years of work for the zoo, Campbell was a member of several other organizations, including the Explorer's Club. He had also been named an Alumnus of the Year in Arts and Letters at SDSU.

Campbell is survived by his wife, Florence; a son, Gregory Campbell, and a daughter, Kim Molina.

Services have not been announced, but a memorial service at the zoo was planned.

The family asks that any donations be sent to a memorial fund being established at the zoo in Campbell's name.

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