Dr. George William (Billy) Campbell, MD, was born and raised in the foothills of western South Carolina’s mountains. As a child, he roamed the woods and fields of his family’s farm outside of Westminster, collecting insects and dabbling in growing native plants. After graduating from the public high-school, he attended Emory University, graduating with a B.S. in Biology in 1977. While at Emory, he worked summers as a raft guide on the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River and spent 6 months at Oak Ridge National Laboratories working on a project to examine the effects of thermal pollution on fresh water ecosystems. He graduated with his M.D. from the Medical University of South Carolina in 1981, and finished his residency in Family Practice in 1984 in Savannah, Ga. He participated in a project to identify wild-type lambda phage (a virus used in genetic research) while at MUSC, and served as Chief Resident in Savannah. In 1984, he moved home to Westminster, where he has practiced medicine, and has been the town’s only physician since 1994. At the local 120-doctor hospital, Oconee Memorial Hospital, he has served as chairman of the Family Practice Department, head of the Credentials Committee, head of the Quality Assurance Committee, and Chief of Staff. He co-founded the hospital’s ethics committee, and now serves on the physician practice improvement committee. He has served as a preceptor for third year medical students form MUSC for more than 5 years, and received student-recommended Preceptor of the Year Award in 2003.
His interest in natural burial began with an 8th grade teacher who shared his opinion with the class that he wanted to be buried in a burlap bag and have a tree planted over him. At Emory, Billy became interested in death studies, and read Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death and Earnest Becker’s The Denial of Death. In medical school, spending hours on end in a room full of cadavers sharpened his interest in death care. After reading a medical anthropology text that included a description of New Guinea “spirit forests”, he had the idea for creating a new type of memorial park that would be a tool for saving land, what would later become “conservation burial grounds”. After the untimely death of his father in 1985, Billy, his brother and brother-in-law took care of the arrangements. The experience left him deeply unsatisfied and convinced him that he should pursue his dream of conservation burial.
After speaking and writing about death care as a conservation tool for more than 10 years, Billy and his wife Kimberley founded Memorial Ecosystems in 1996, and opened the Ramsey Creek Preserve in 1998.
Ramsey Creek served as a laboratory for developing the specific techniques for green interment and project design. It was here that Billy developed most of the standards for what is now known as conservation burial. Dr. Campbell has spoken to numerous groups over the years, including the Natural Areas Association, the Society for Ecological Restoration, the Land Trust Alliance and many others.
Since opening the Ramsey Creek Preserve, the Campbells have participated the development of three other functioning projects, and expect a fourth to open in Spring 07.
One of these projects became a disappointment when the owner decided to forgo a number of the standards Billy had developed. While the project did not turn out as he had hoped, the experience allowed him to think through conservation burial in an urban situation and introduced him to ecological design pioneer Sim Van Der Rynn and Joe Sehee. Joe has gone on to found the non-profit Green Burial Council, that used and extended Billy’s standards as the basis for its conservation burial standards and certification program.
In 2006, Memorial Ecosystems transferred a detailed easement for the Ramsey Creek Preserve to the South Carolina-based conservation group Upstate Forever, and became the first project certified as a Conservation Burial Ground by the Green Burial Council.