Sam I Am

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"There was this thing, that I wanted something different," she says, explaining why at age 21 she hooked up with a girlfriend, loaded her friend's old white Comet with their possessions and headed south for Glendale, Arizona, where somebody's brother the priest was supposed to set them up with jobs at a school. That fell through, and after a brief stay at the famed Kon Tiki hotel in Phoenix, the two wound up sharing an apartment in Scottsdale and hostessing/waitressing at Reuben's restaurant on Scottsdale Road, walking distance from where Campana now lives at 68th Street and Highland.

Hick may be too harsh a word, but: Johnny Carson! Thomas Mall! Diamond's department store! Campana remembers being blown away by the sophistication of her new surroundings. Even with a local population still below 50,000, Scottsdale TV viewers were progressive enough to tolerate such a ribald Idaho no-no as The Tonight Show, with its segments sandwiched between suave high-fashion ads for the glamorous new Thomas Mall, which boasted a Diamond's and a Switzer's.

Then, just as the dazzled ingenue was asking herself, "Does it get any better than this?" she met an older (11 years) single Italian-American attorney named Richard Campana. The next year, 1970, the couple married, moved to a big house at Cactus and Hayden, and Sam set about learning to cook, speak, do everything Italian. Within six months, Richard was named to fill an open seat on the Scottsdale City Council, and young Sam, age 22, became a political wife, a lady who lunches.

The new bride was out to become the best political wife on record. She worked hard on political campaigns for Richard and his cronies. "Typing, typing, typing!" she recalls.

Janie Ellis, a Scottsdale native, stage director and longtime Campana friend, remembers Sam Campana becoming a mainstay in Ellis' annual "Follies" fund raiser show to benefit the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. "Sam became one of the yearly cancan dancers, and kind of got stagestruck," recalls Ellis. "I try to take all the credit for her deciding to become a public persona. She was fun and real game."

Largely because of her husband's influential position, Campana admits today, opportunities started to come her way. By 1972, someone at the new Center for the Arts suggested that snagging Councilman Campana's wife for its board couldn't hurt the new center politically.

"It's creepy, I know, but that's exactly what happened," says Campana. And so, she served on the board and later as a founding member of the Scottsdale Arts Center Association. "What did I know about the arts? Nothing." But, she said, her husband's name was tagged to it, and she felt responsible for making it work. Philanthropist Kax Herberger took an interest in the younger woman and, says Campana, helped her grow.

"I don't know arts from much--I've learned over all these years," she says. "I'm an organizer, and I can work harder and longer than anybody. I have more stamina than anybody." In a few years, she was the arts center association's president. She takes credit for helping grow the center's business and corporate memberships, key to its financial success.

Like a lot of other nonworking married women two decades ago, having a life outside the home clicked for Campana, who by then had three children--Cassidy, Katie and Richie. Meanwhile, the Campana marriage was taking its knocks. Sam Campana tells the couple's divorce story as a typical 1970s-80s wife's self-actualization victory. She wanted to have her own life, he wouldn't let her, so she wanted out. When the divorce papers were filed in 1983 after 13 years of marriage, Richard filed the "irreconcilable differences" claim. When the dust settled, Sam got the house and an annual stipend of around $30,000 for two years. They shared custody of the kids and have remained amicable, speaking frequently and occasionally attending their children's events together.

Richard Campana today says, "We had a civilized divorce many years ago. We're still friends, but she has no business ties to me."

Sam Campana has been spending time with Phoenix heart surgeon Lee Ansel for the past 14 years. He's the only part of her life about which she's obsessively guarded. She says he's never spent the night at her house, they like to hike together and they haven't married because it would disrupt her children. Only Richie, 16, still lives at home with his mother. Campana won't say much else, but cynical observers report that at public events, Ansel hangs back and circles the room alone, "ears open." Ansel initially served as treasurer of Campana's mayoral campaign.

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Kate Nolan