The first thing James Robinette noticed about his friend, Matthew Campbell, when they met about six years ago was his bushy beard.
“I was like, ‘Who is this guy with this crazy beard?’” Robinette, a pipefitter and member of the Local 625 Plumbers and Pipefitters union, said.
Now, when he thinks about Campbell, there’s a lot more that comes to mind. He can talk about how Campbell lit up a room, and how he loved his four young children — three sons and a daughter. Or how he loved his job, but he also was active in his community and stayed busy with different projects.
Campbell was a welder who belonged to the same union. He was working for Nitro Construction Services, doing work at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, when he was killed on the job last month.
Officials won’t release details about what happened but said he was crushed doing demolition work on May 2. He was hospitalized for his critical injuries and died a few weeks later on May 14. He was 34.
In a statement, a spokesman for Bayer confirmed the death and expressed sympathy. Nitro Construction Services didn’t respond to phone calls seeking information for this story. Doug Reynolds, managing partner of HD Media, which bought the Charleston Gazette-Mail in late March, is director and treasurer of Nitro Construction Services, according to corporate records on file with the Secretary of State's office.
Campbell worked with a smile on his face, his colleagues said. He worked primarily as a welder, but he could do anything, and he did it well, Robinette said.
“I mean, Soup was someone who could do anything. He could weld, he could pipefit, he could rig; he was like jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” he said, referring to Campbell by his nickname, Soup.
And, Robinette said, he was incredibly smart.
“Just being a construction worker, people don’t think construction workers are all that intelligent, but Soup was sharp,” he said.
To honor him, the Local 625 erected a tribute to him at this year’s 12th annual Pipe Trade Apprenticeship Contest: A big metal can, painted red and white to look like a Campbell’s chicken noodle soup can.
Next to the big can, friends and family signed their names in gold marker on a big black poster.
This was the union’s first fatality since 1972, said Brett Matthews, director of training for the union.
He said he still doesn’t know exactly what happened, but that it was a rare accident. Asked what the union was doing to remember Campbell, he said they were ramping up safety training.
“Make sure everybody’s safe, do little extra training to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Things at Bayer are different now, Robinette said. Everything’s a little more somber.
Every day, he waits for his friend to get out of the company’s white Chevrolet four-door pickup truck, and start the workday with him.
It never happens.