Celebration will honor Roy Crawford, Sr. for service, legacy in Maryville

Roy and Dottie Crawford reminisce about Roy’s time in city government at an interview at their home in Maryville.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Roy and Dottie Crawford reminisce about Roy’s time in city government at an interview at their home in Maryville.

He was the wise counselor, serving a city he grew up in, loved and helped shape. Attorneys, judges, councilmen and mayors -- he served four of them -- found a learned city attorney in Maryville to help them govern. When it came to help with interpreting city ordinances, there was no one better than Roy Crawford, Sr.

He knew them well because he had a hand in writing most of them.

Crawford, 90, will be honored on Monday, Sept. 12, with Roy Crawford Day and will receive a proclamation in his honor at the city council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13. The public is invited to join friends and family for a reception in Crawford’s honor in the Gary Hensley Room of the Maryville Municipal Building from 4:30 to 6:30 on Monday.

Crawford is humble about his impact on Maryville city government. When asked what ordinances he helped write and put into place, he simply says, “It was everything from garbage pick-up to personnel.”

In truth, Crawford helped shape and “sell” the form of government that Maryville City has operated under for 44 years, a city manager based government that he still champions as being “a lot more workable” and a “positive step for the community.”

It was Mayor T. Ned Lee who championed the cause for a city manager, said Crawford, transitioning Maryville from a mayor and alderman form of government to the city manager form still in place today. Rodney Lawler was Maryville’s city administrator under Mayor Lee before the city manager form of government was passed. “I guess I do lay claim to having drawn up the document for the city manager form of government,” Crawford said modestly. “The problem was selling it to the public. Ned was quite good at publicity.”

The new form of government transferred some of the power and authority away from the mayor and put it in a lot more workable form, said Crawford. “You could very quickly just go to the city manager and get a decision on something. He was right there, and he was working with department heads.”

Serving as city attorney was not Crawford’s first foray into public service. He was a state senator from 1960 to 1966 while still maintaining Crawford and Crawford, a private law practice in Maryville.

“Back then, being a state senator was not the professional job it is today. The pay was $15 a day while in Nashville -- $5 for meals and $10 for room.”

At the funeral of city attorney Hugh DeLozier in 1966, Mayor Lee approached Crawford with a proposal. “I had come in from Nashville for Hugh’s funeral. We were at Grandview Cemetery, and Ned Lee came up and said, ‘We’ve already agreed we’re going to appoint you city attorney if you will take it.’ I was flattered. I served from then until 1999, retiring from our law firm in 1993 to do the job full time.”

As city attorney, Crawford served mayors Lee, Stanley “Skeeter” Shields, Steve West and Joe Swann. Crawford said each of the mayors had different personalities, but he feels Maryville has always been blessed in their mayors and city managers.

“We’ve been fortunate to have successful, well thought of local citizens running the city. We were blessed during my 30-plus years to have citizens who served on city council who were responsible, successful people in the community.”

Those who served did so out of a love of community, said Crawford. “You couldn’t tempt them with salary. During our time, they served for a token $25 a month and the mayor got $50.”

Former City Manager Gary Hensley said Crawford provided not only quality legal counsel, but he was the “go-to” guy for advice on policy, issues and politics by councilmen, mayors and city managers for more than 35 years. “I nicknamed him the ‘wise counselor,’ because we depended so much on his advice,” Hensley said. “You could always count on an objective, impartial opinion from him. He didn’t pull punches - he gave it to you straight.

“Maryville owes a great deal of its success to the enlightened work of Roy Crawford over the last half of the 20th century.”

Crawford said he tried when he could to encourage people he thought had a heart for service to get involved. One of those he approached for former Mayor Steve West.

“I lived next to Roy from age 13 until I got out of school,” West said. “He and his wife were the finest neighbors.”.

Years later West served as chair of the Blount County Chamber and in that position he often encouraged young professionals to get involved. Then Bob Navratil, a city council member, died, and Crawford approached West to see if he would be interested in filling the unexpired term.

“He’s steady, honest and sincere,” West said. “He was dedicated to making Blount County and Maryville a good, safe place to live.”

Maryville City Councilman and former Mayor Joe Swann said the relationship of the Crawfords and the city of Maryville goes back even before Roy came on in 1966. “John Crawford, Roy’s brother, was mayor from 1946 to ‘52,” Swann said.

Swann said Crawford cultivated deep roots in the community through years of service to the community. “He has been member of New Providence Church all his life, and he’s just been a real part of the ‘root system’ that is this whole community,” Swann said. “”Roy is a class act in every sense of the word. He gives the community a lot of dignity. He is an honest man who lends a lot of dignity to who we are.”

Sitting in his home just off Court Street, Crawford is rooted to the city of Maryville not just through his public service. Not only have he and his wife, Dottie, lived and raised their children in this house, but the land it sits on has been in the Duncan/Crawford family since 1806, officially, although Crawford tells that Great-great-grandfather John Duncan actually built the first cabin on the land in the mid-1780s. The land has never been titled outside the Duncan/Crawford family.

“I’m a fifth-generation Blount Countian,” said Crawford. “My great-great-grandfather, who had been a soldier in the American Revolution out of Virginia, came down here after the fighting stopped. This was all Cherokee country and frontier. He originally lived up at John Craig Fort, where the Chamber of Commerce sits, on the bluff above Pistol Creek.”

In the fort, Duncan met his soon-to-be wife, Margaret Alexander.

“Great-great-grandfather Duncan came to Maryville in 1784. The people who came here lived within the fort because it was unsafe outside the walls because of the Indians. “

The veterans of the Revolutionary War were given land grants as payment. The Duncan land grant describes a little less than 600 acres given to John Duncan on property situated between what is now Wilkerson Pike to the other side of Montvale Road. Duncan came out of the fort and built a cabin over the hill from the current Crawford home and settled there with his family.

The Crawford side of the family also had ties to the American Revolution. “My Grandfather Crawford was a descendent of Sam Crawford, a soldier in the American Revolution who settled in north Knoxville near Washington Pike Church,” Roy Crawford said.

By the time the Civil War hit East Tennessee, there were two and three generations of Duncans living in Maryville. After the war, when classes resumed at Maryville College, Roy Crawford’s grandfather Gideon Stebbins White Crawford was one of 13 boys who formed the first reassembled class at Maryville College. Calvin Duncan was also one of the 13.

“He was my grandmother’s brother. My Grandfather GSW Crawford roomed with Calvin Duncan, and that’s where he met my grandmother. They were all great Presbyterians.”

GSW Crawford was one of the seven out of the 13 who stayed and graduated from Maryville College. He went on to seminary and eventually the Crawfords came back to Maryville and GSW worked at Maryville College.

Roy’s father, John Calvin Crawford Sr., graduated from Maryville College and then from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1900. After being in practice with Judge Mose Gamble Sr., he then started his own practice and was later joined by his oldest son John, and then Roy.

Roy’s journey to the law firm took a sidestep that his parents saw coming.

“I graduated from Maryville High School in 1939 and entered Maryville College. My parents were very concerned I would go into the service without finishing college. They were quite insistent that I finish college. I entered college in the fall of 1939, and I tried to make certain in my major I had the necessary hours to graduate early.

“We didn’t know when the draft would fall on us. I joined the army reserve, got a six-month deferment and that enabled me to finish at Christmas in 1942 after 3 ½ years at the college. Ten days later, I was in uniform. I went in as an enlisted reserve and ended up being shipped to Europe after five months. They were in the midst of the big build up for the (D-Day) invasion.”

Crawford was attached to the 8th Air Force with the 8th Reconnaissance Wing, which had the role of gathering intelligence through aerial photography. He attained rank of technical sergeant.

“Technology was quite different then than it is today. We were establishing their locations on the ground through photography.”

Crawford returned at war’s end and got a commission as a second lieutenant with the Tennessee National Guard. He also got married.

“I met Dottie when we were at Maryville College,” Roy Crawford said. “She was from New Jersey near Camden across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, and she was an only child. We still can’t figure out why they sent her all the way down here to college, but I sure am glad they did.”

When he returned from the war, he and Dottie got married on Feb. 16, 1946, after he entered UT Law School, which he finished in 3 ½ years. His oldest brother, John Crawford, who is the father of Maryville attorney Duncan Crawford, had graduated from Maryville College and Harvard Law School in 1930.

“It was the heart of the Depression, and John wanted to come back home and practice. He and my dad formed Crawford and Crawford, and I just kind of fell in with them after I graduated.”

All six of the Crawford boys graduated from Maryville College, said Roy.

“After John, there was George, who was with S.H. Kress Stores. He was a manager of several of their stores, in Memphis for awhile and then, his last store, in Alexandria, La.”

Brother Earl was a Presbyterian minister and was in Texas for more than 30 years, said Crawford. Lynn Crawford, a graduate of Harvard Business School, retired as an assistant controller of Alcoa, Inc., in Pittsburg.

The fifth brother was Ernest, who became a Presbyterian minister and died at age 61.

“I was the youngest,” said Roy. “My mother would always embarrass me and introduce me as her baby.”

Roy Crawford served his country again in the Korean War. After joining the National Guard, he was only in a short while when his unit was activated in September of 1950. Crawford was in the states for one year, and then was in Korea for 14 months, where he was in the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge. (For a complete story on Roy Crawford’s time in Korea, see the Blount Today story on Oct. 20, 2010, at www.BlountToday.com.)

Roy and Dottie had three children. Blount Countains are most familiar with Roy Crawford, Jr., who is Blount County clerk. He and his wife, Cathy Henderson Crawford, live in Maryville.

Daughter Serena Ann and her husband, Greg Robertson, were killed in car accident in Atlanta in 1990. Daughter Mary Crawford is married to Calvin Mew and is retired from American Express and now is with another company. They live in New York and Connecticut.

Dottie and Roy have two grandchildren, Alex, a law student at George Washington University, and Elizabeth, who just finished her second year in the Peace Corps in Ghana and plans to enter medical school. They are the children of Serena and Greg Robertson.

Dottie, who will soon be 90, had no hesitation helping fill in the blanks on Maryville’s history.

“Dottie has been here since she was an 18-year-old kid,” said her proud husband. “She’s a transplanted Yankee, but she’s been my biggest supporter through the years. It is like a religious conversion -- she wasn’t born here, but she’s converted, and she is more of a cheerleader for this area than I am.”

In looking at his 90 years, with more than 40 of them including public service, Roy Crawford sees change, such as the one Maryville went through all those many years ago, as a natural progression of progress. “I’m proud of my involvement in the creation of the city manager form of government. It is surprising that a lot of people think that good, healthy government has to have people beating on the door threatening to do this or that. If you are going to change it, do it in a way that has a good effect rather than trying to tear everything apart,” said Roy Crawford.

“To some people, there’s always a boogie man.”

And hopefully, always a man who can serve as a wise counsel.

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