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Leaders' lives show grit, determination

Gordon Muir Campbell and Carole Alison James are utterly exhausted robots by now, chanting the same phrases with glazed looks in their eyes and maniacally shaking whatever hand is thrust in front of them.

Gordon Muir Campbell and Carole Alison James are utterly exhausted robots by now, chanting the same phrases with glazed looks in their eyes and maniacally shaking whatever hand is thrust in front of them.

But away from the campaign, who are these people who would dare to run B.C.? In a campaign that was short on interesting stories, their own lives are a compelling part of Election 2009.

Apart from the politics, the platforms and the personae, they're individuals who followed interesting routes to get to where they are.

Campbell was born to an upstanding Shaughnessy family Jan. 11, 1948. Dad was a cardiologist and assistant dean of medicine at the University of British Columbia. Mom was a vivacious and efficient homemaker.

Four kids, rambunctious family life, affluent times that went bad in a few years. The father started drinking to excess. He was treated unsuccessfully for alcoholism and his wife came home one day to find him dead, a presumed suicide by way of alcohol and pills. Gordon Campbell was 13 then.

The tragedy reduced their circumstances considerably. He told reporters this week: "I know actually what it's like to live in a low-income family. My mother was raising four kids on a school secretary's salary."

He was a smart jock in high school, went on to Ivy League Dartmouth College with some family help and returned home to marry Nancy when they were both aged 22. They took off for a two-year stint teaching in Nigeria. Came back and tried law school but quit, hooked up with Art Phillips (who is now married to Carole Taylor) and helped his mayoralty campaign.

Campbell spent several years as a property developer (through the last recession) with mixed success, got an MA and went into civic politics, serving three terms as Vancouver's mayor, while raising two sons.

When the Liberal leadership fell apart, he took over in 1993 and started a focused run to overturn the NDP.

He was given the political smackdown of a lifetime in 1996, when then-premier Glen Clark beat him, but he hung on to the leadership and became premier in 2001.

James was born Dec. 22, 1957, in England. Her mother had got pregnant in Saskatchewan at 16 and fled back to England to avoid telling her folks. Mom -- Mavis De Girolamo -- returned to Saskatchewan and started raising James and another daughter.

They moved to Victoria early on and James was raised by her mother and grandmother -- her Métis father dropped out of touch.

She grew up in a home full of foster kids and political activism. Last week, on a radio show, James recalled her mother protesting the Vietnam war, working for civil rights and sheltering U.S. draft dodgers.

She graduated from Spectrum Secondary and moved to Alberta with her high school sweetheart, where she worked with disabled people. Returned to Victoria to work at the old Glendale Hospital. Married her boyfriend and had a daughter and son in 1979 and 1981.

She got drawn into school work, started taking in foster children and became a school board trustee, then was invited to run provincially in 2001 -- by three different parties.

She opted for the NDP and lost. Then her marriage dissolved, her grandparents died, she quit her provincial job and moved to Prince George to work for a tribal council.

James met Burns Lake councillor Albert Gerow there and started a relationship. Her phone started ringing when the NDP leadership came open and she decided to go for it. She beat five other candidates handily, married Gerow, a native artist and former Mountie, and set about rejuvenating the Opposition.

They did better than expected in 2005, winning 33 seats. She suffered a health setback in 2006, undergoing surgery for ovarian cancer. She bounced back in a few weeks and has been going strong ever since.

Campbell and James have overcome adversity, they're both tough and they both think the other is dead wrong on just about everything.

And both their careers hang in the balance, depending on the results Tuesday.

Just So You Know: Full credit to various past and present colleagues at the Times Colonist and the Vancouver Sun. They wrote intensive profiles of the pair in the past several years, from which these details are drawn.