Campbell was one of Botswana's foremost experts on the country's people, their history and pre-history, and the nation's physical heritage.Born in Cheltenham, England, he joined the British South Africa Police in Southern Rhodesia at the age of 19 and three years later joined the agricultural department as a tse-tse fly officer. In 1959 he entered university at Rhodes, where he graduated in Sindebele and Social Anthropology. On December 2, 1961 he married Judith Merial Styrachan and the following year he joined the Bechuanaland Protectorate administration as a district officer in Maun. In 1962-1963, with independence talks underway, Campbell organised and ran the country's first house-to-house census. He became recorder of customary law, senior field officer for famine relief operations and on the eve of independence a senior officer both in the ministries of Local Government and of Home Affairs.
For his contribution to the transition he was awarded an MBE in 1966. At independence he held the dual posts of Gaborone district commissioner and senior warden in the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, of which he became director in 1971. He and Judy became Botswana citizens in 1972. Meanwhile, Campbell originated the National Museum and Art Gallery, which was opened 30 September 1968, and served as its curator until it was formally established, in 1974, when Campbell was appointed its first director, a position he held until 1987. In 1977 he also became Commissioner of National Monuments.
During this period, Campbell helped to found The Botswana Society, in 1969, which he served for the next ten years as chair and vice chair of the executive committee. Campbell helped launch the Society's banner journal, Botswana Notes and Records, of which he was lead editor for three decades.
After retiring from the Museum, Campbell turned to the archaeological research and the study of rock art, the results appeared in numerous publications, capped by the appearance in 2010 of Tsodilo Hills: Copper Bracelet by Campbell, Larry Robbins and Michael Taylor, the summation of decades of patient research. He and the late Thomas Tlou published The History of Botswana by Macmillan Botswana, since appearing in many editions and still the standard work. He and Mike Main published two classic guides, Guide to Botswana and Guide to Greater Gaborone (still in print). Campbell has supported and inspired countless individuals in their endeavours to broaden knowledge and understanding of Botswana.
Campbell was predeceased by his children Clare and Ian, and is survived by his wife, Judy, and sons Colin, Niall and a daughter, Heather. Funeral services will be conducted at the Campbell residence, Crocodile Pools, on December 2, 2012, at 7am.The Botswana Society will forever be in Campbell's debt.