Rick Campbell honors passed CF Professor by reading poetry series


After 18 years, CF Communications Professor Debra Vazquez is thought by many to leave a standing impact on campus.

Vazquez served on many campus committees, including as an advisor for the college’s award-winning magazine called Imprints.

Vazquez was involved in an intense domestic violence situation in 2004 where her estranged husband shot her in front of an Ocala police station. After succumbing to her injuries, Vazquez’s husband later turned the gun on himself.

Since the incident, Professors Sandra and Ron Cooper have worked to ensure Vazquez’s legacy lives on through the annual College of Central Florida Debra Vazquez Memorial Poetry Series.

This event has welcomed world-renowned poets in Vazquez’s honor, some of which have earned Laureate and Nobel prizes.

Rick Campbell, an author of seven volumes of poetry, was the guest speaker of this year’s memorial series on April 13, 2022. Campbell claims he began by simply reading works of art from his influencers, Richard Hugo and James Wright.

Ron Cooper began the event by reflecting on Vazquez’s role in his life, as well as her influence at CF.

“Debra Vazquez was a mentor for me, my wife, and the communications and humanities departments at the College of Central Florida,” Ron Cooper said. “She was an incredible teacher, and a senseless incident occurred.”

Ron Cooper introduced Campbell and praised him for the awards he had achieved over the years, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and two poetry fellowships from the Florida Arts Council. Campbell’s work appears in journals like The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner and Gargoyle Magazine.

Having lived in the Florida panhandle, Gadsden County, Campbell took time to play baseball and was even a land surveyor before his career fell into place. Initially a poet and later dabbling in essay writing, Campbell now attests his ability to write poems from beginning to end in one sitting.

Campbell has also written “Sometimes the Light” and “Gunshot, Peacock, Dog,” which acts as a eulogy for himself, his lost friends and family, and for the changes in the world.

Able to identify with loss and the hole left in the community after Vazquez’s passing, Campbell shared an excerpt from “Sometimes the Light” about the loss of someone in his own life.

“The Last Parade… A funeral is small, short, secular canonization. The dead become saints,” Campbell said. “Much is recalled; much is omitted.”

Campbell shared this experience of an unhealthy relationship with his father that resulted in conversations left unspoken and then his father’s last parade.

One student and self-proclaimed “lover of poetry” in attendance, Jill Beck, shared her thoughts on her experience after this specific excerpt from Campbell spoke to her.

“I overcame a history of domestic violence, and my husband was one of Professor Vazquez’s former students,” Beck said. “I come to this event every year because there’s a spiritual connection between me and these readings.”

Even now, 18 years after the fact, renowned poets, students, staff and faculty join in honor of the late Debra Vazquez. Students attending may expect an experience that offers knowledge that can be implemented in both writing and personal life.

Thanks to Debra Vazquez, CF may raise awareness for domestic violence one poetry reading at a time.