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July/August 2014
Spudman 7: Bill Campbell

For more than 30 years, Bill Campbell was the potato disease control specialist for the state of Alaska’s Plant Materials Center. On April 30, Campbell retired from his position as Alaska’s all-around potato guy.

He produced mini tubers for the Alaska Certified Seed Potato Growers and performed certification inspections. He released a purple-fleshed variety and named it Magic Molly after his daughter.

In 2008, Campbell received his 15 minutes of fame when he was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered,” about the Palmer Potato Pageant that he organized to celebrate the International Year of the Potato.

Campbell has volunteered through the USAID Farmer to Farmer program and consulted with potato farmers in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Bangladesh and Egypt.

He is a past president of The Potato Association of America.

What are the best words of advice you ever received?

To become a member of The Potato Association of America and to quit smoking. It is nice to know that people care enough about you to chime in and point out your shortcomings.

What are your goals for the next 12 months?

Play with my grandson, help train the new field inspector and float a part of the Susquehanna River.

What do you do to relax?

Split firewood and putz around. I made flowers from tin cans and won a first prize at the Alaska State Fair. Two midwinter weeks in Hawaii helps too.

What would you like to be your lasting legacy?

Happy people eating Magic Molly potatoes.

What are the top three things on your bucket list/must do list?

Learn to play the ukulele, have lunch with Meg Ryan, and quit smoking.

What job or work would you have pursued if you had not become involved in the potato industry?

I wanted to get into the vegetable seed industry. Then Bob Hanneman showed me a collection of Andean potatoes at the germplasm repository in Sturgeon Bay and I was hooked. What an amazing plant — more shapes, forms and colors than I could imagine. An article in the May 1982 issue of National Geographic has pictures of the types of potatoes grown there. So much more to learn.

What is the one truth you’ve learned about the potato industry?

Potatoes are addictive. Like other members of the solanum family — tobacco, tomatoes and petunias — something about these plants gets ahold of you. All the wonderful people who are also addicted to potatoes and contribute to the knowledge base are the icing on the potato cake. I have had lot of help from the friends I made attending the PAA meetings over the years. Yep, I made a lot of friends.

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