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Mark Anthony Campbell’s Death Is A Reminder That COVID-19 Is Still Deadly

Jewelry and fashion designer Mark Anthony Campbell died of COVID-19 on May 13, 2021
The Campbell Family
Jewelry and fashion designer Mark Anthony Campbell died of COVID-19 on May 13, 2021

“The closer you walk with God Almighty, the more you will see yourself.”

Aunkule Benford Campbell, wife of the late Mark Anthony Campbell was not sure why her husband posted that Facebook message on Sunday, April 25.

“It was church day for Mark, maybe he was just feeling spiritual,” she mused.

St. Louisans knew the silver-bearded, dapperly dressed entrepreneur as the founder of the Mark Anthony Collection. For more than 30 years, thousands had purchased designer, custom jewelry, brand name handbags and accessories from Campbell.

“Every night he would say, ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it…I just said, ‘Honey you’re going to be fine. You’re gonna make it.’”
Aunkule Benford Campbell, wife of the late Mark Anthony Campbell

What Aunkule did know was that her husband was not feeling his best that evening. He had just returned home from a business trip and, even though he was not feeling 100%, they decided to take their daughters, Laila, 14, and Aunya, 9, to dinner at the Pasta House in Ladue. Once seated, Mark excused himself, saying he was having chills and wanted to step outside to stand in setting sun light.

Aunkule said her husband’s condition worsened over the next few days:

By Thursday morning, he looked beat up, not as “swagger-ish,” she recalled.

Aunkule Benford Campbell (left), widow of jewelry and fashion designer Mark Anthony Campbell, and their children Laila (center-right) and Aunya Campbell.
Aunkule Benford Campbell (left), widow of jewelry and fashion designer Mark Anthony Campbell, and their children Laila (center-right) and Aunya Campbell.

Campbell went to a nearby urgent care facility where they tested him for COVID-19. Aunkule received the results by a text. It was positive.

He was severely dehydrated. Urgent care doctors feared his kidneys were shutting down and sent him to DePaul Hospital in Bridgeton. Aunkule could not go to the hospital because her husband was on the “COVID floor,” she said.

Visitors were not allowed, but her husband assured her he would stay in touch by phone.

Meanwhile, Aunkule felt exhausted. She checked her and the girl’s temperatures regularly. Although they showed no symptoms, Aunkule decided the family would stay quarantined in the house.

Things were tough for the Campbell family. Two weeks before the pandemic struck last year, they had moved into a high-rise dwelling near the Central West End. Aunkule is a licensed cosmetologist who works from home. Both of their professions — retail and beauty — were basically shut down as the coronavirus shuttered businesses nationwide. Their health, life and other insurance policies lapsed during the economic downturn.

“I'll always remember his well-groomed gray beard and his fashion.”
Rene Knott, KSDK morning news anchor

Neither she nor Mark had been vaccinated. Their decision, Aunkule explained, was based on religious reasons and shared mistrust of the medical system that, she added, has mistreated and experimented on black people for centuries.

Campbell stayed in touch with his wife by phone.

“Every night he would say, ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it,” Aunkule recalled. “We weren’t really phased by that because he talked about death a lot even before this. So, I just said, ‘Honey you’re going to be fine. You’re gonna make it.’”

He didn’t. Mark left his last message with his daughter, Laila, who shared it with her mother and little sister:

“I just want you all to know that I love you,” he said.

 Mark Anthony Campbell is survived by his widow Aunkule Benford Campbell (from left) and two children Laila, 14, and Aunya, 9, Campbell.
Mark Anthony Campbell died May 13, 2021 — 16 days before his 60th birthday. His widow Aunkule Benford Campbell (from left) their two children, Laila and Aunya Campbell, 14 and 9 years old, respectively, pose with photos of him.

Mark Anthony Campbell passed away on May 13, just 16 days before his 60th birthday. Condolences to his wife, daughters and children from other relationships, and his loved ones filled his Facebook page. Friends, family and former customers shared their stories of unique items they had purchased or interactions and conversations they had with Mark over the decades.

“I'll always remember his well-groomed gray beard and his fashion,” wrote KSDK morning news anchor, Rene Knott.

“Sadly, I am reminded once again to let the people you care about and love know that you do. St Louis has lost a good man. Rest in Peace Mark and God Bless your family.”

The passing of the locally famous jewelry and fashion couturier, serves as a stark reminder that COVID-19 is still lurking, still consuming and still deadly even as the numbers of coronavirus-related deaths are declining.

Sylvester Brown Jr. on Mark Anthony Campbell
Listen to Brown discuss his story on St. Louis on the Air

As of May 29, a total of 134,418,748 Americans had been fully vaccinated, or about 40% of the country's population, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although almost 600,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, cases and deaths in the U.S. have dropped to their lowest levels in nearly a year. And while the number of people vaccinated continues to grow, the virus has not yet been eradicated.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, is still saying Americans shouldn’t feel anywhere near comfortable until we see “a baseline level of COVID-19 infections so low that the risk of being exposed to the virus is as close to zero as possible.”

Even though the virus claimed her husband’s life, Aunkule’s feelings about vaccinations haven’t changed.

She’s holding on to the faith she and Mark shared while he lived. God’s grace, she said has been exhibited in the outpouring of love from the community who purposely bought items from the Mark Anthony Collection to help her and the family rebuild their lives.

Her husband lives on in her and her daughter’s lives, Aunkule stressed:

“Mark is in peace and suffers no more. He was a wonderful father, brother, husband, and friend. He was an intensely passionate man and loving in our home. I will miss him dearly, and I will continue to honor his legacy.”

Sylvester Brown Jr. is a Deaconess Fellow at The St. Louis American, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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