Remembering Charlie Crawford

By Debbie Grubb

Greetings all.

I was so touched by last evening’s Tuesday Topics tribute to our friend and leader, and, in my heart, kind warrior, Charlie Crawford. It was filled with beautiful remembrances of Charlie from many of those who knew him best. We learned of the Boston years, of youth, and adventure and beginnings of the meaningful advocacy work of some of the key movers and policy creators in this organization. 

Next we were reminded through phenomenal reminiscences of the ACB years when Charlie served as the organization’s Executive Director by those who worked beside him to move ACB toward more collaborative and inclusive, public advocacy that would show this country who we are and what we stand for. And we also learned of the disappointment and sorrow. 

During this gathering, we were reminded of Charlie’s courage and determination while recovering from a brain aneurysm and his years of service after that almost until the day of his passing. I urge you to give this week’s edition of Tuesday Topics a listen when it becomes available.

I met Charlie on the old Seeing Eye Bulletin Board while he was still the commissioner of Rehabilitation in the State of Massachusetts. Charlie was simply one of us, funny, insightful and above all, kind. 

Looking back on the work that I was privileged to be involved in during and after Charlie’s time as Executive Director, these truths live in my mind and heart and I have tried to follow them in all that I do. Charlie was passionate about what he believed in and went to the wall for it when he felt that it was required of him. Charlie saw the good and the potential in everyone, even those who did not agree with him on every stand that he took. He held out a hand of understanding, friendship and a safe path of consensus building. Charlie believed in that table where people come together to listen, to learn, and to speak, speaking less and listening and learning more. Charlie was all about building bridges to the beautiful place of true inclusion, and recognition of diversity and all that makes us unique human beings, while reminding us of all that binds us together, its significance and what our commonality must move us to do in our shared goals of inclusion and equality of opportunity for all who choose to step forward and take it, with assistance and guidance always available to them from those who have gone before. 

Charlie was not about turf claiming; he was about getting the work done and including all of those who wanted to put their shoulders to that proverbial grindstone. I remember one day when Charlie happily told me that he was going to update the Pedestrian Safety Handbook. I had put together the first edition by finding meaningful articles and papers and getting permission from their authors to include them in the document. As fate would have it, I had planned to ask Charlie if I could update the piece. When Charlie said that he was going to do it, the better part of me was happy, knowing that he would do a fantastic Charlie Crawford job with it. I expressed my gratitude to him for taking this on and my certainty that he would bring the project to a new level of excellence. I truly meant that from my heart. But Charlie must have caught just that little note of disappointment in my voice. Without a word, he put a disk into my hand and said in the most kind and gentle way, “Are you happy?” I joyously said that I was and actually, what happened was that I sought Charlie’s opinions and advice quite often so in reality, he did update the Handbook while including me in the process. 

Charlie knew how to be a cheer leader, how to affirm a person, and let’s face it, we all need that once in a while. 

Because of the time in history that I was President of GDUI, there was some significant civil rights work that defined that time. As we strove to include other stakeholders in the work while being sure to protect the civil rights of public access for guide dog  users,

Charlie was in the forefront of this work, providing advice and guidance and cheering us on into the end zone. 

The aspect of Charlie’s character that is most memorable to me is the way that he took on and triumphed over adversity, in his career and in his health. His determination to live a meaningful life moved him to work and to strive when many would have understood had he decided to retire. Even though it wasn’t as easy as it had been, Charlie gave himself to us and to our common causes with the same intensity and best self that had defined the entirety of his work in the cause. With his dear wife, Sue, at his side, who always lent a hand in such a quiet, helpful and loving way, and his Little raisin in the sun guiding him on the left, Charlie continued to march with us in his role of Kind Warrior.

Rest well, friend and kind warrior.

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