The best description of Nick Crawford is contained in an off-the-cuff comment from banker Andy Kingery.
Nick was one of the last of the look-you-in-the-eye, shake-your-hand-to-make-a-deal kind of men, says Kingery, who used to do business with Crawford back when the late director of Columbia County Construc-tion and Maintenance served the county as its controller.
Nick finally succumbed to a long battle with cancer Jan. 2, on his 69th birthday, having spent his final days with his bed pulled up to the fireplace, surrounded by his family and his beloved English bulldogs.
Many people knew those dogs from their guest appearances in advertisements for his wife Starrs real estate business (accompanied by the slogan Bulldog Determination!). They were like kids, and Nick loved talking about them - how theyd take over the bed, how theyd get fat and lazy, how tough it was to lose one of the short-lived breed.
Talk about short-lived. Even with 69 years, almost all of them right here in Columbia County, Crawford wasnt here long enough.
It is hard to make this any more straightforward: Nick Crawford was just a good guy. The big, burly men in the countys Construction and Maintenance and Roads and Bridges crews would attest to that. Uncomfortable in rarely worn Sunday suits, they set their jaws and sat in saddened silence as state Rep. Bill Jackson eulogized their long-time boss.
I can tell you that Nick, from the time he was a little boy, had character, says Jackson, who grew up with Crawford, first meeting him on the school bus. He wasnt an average man. He was an above-average man.
Just to meet Crawford, youd think he was the average Joe. This is a guy who in his last year with the county dealt with the mundane but important details of making sure roads were paved and potholes fixed. Youd never know he was the valedictorian of his Evans High School class, or that he had earned a law degree at the University of Georgia.
Crawford never practiced law. I realized Nick did not like combativeness, Jackson muses.
But Nick did fight, and not just in Korea where he rose to lieutenant. He kept beating cancer, only to have it return and knock him down again. Like many cancer patients, Crawfords progress often was measured by his hair: the more he had, the better he was doing, because it had grown back after treatments took it away.
It was common to see a friend ruffle the growing stubble on his head, an act Crawford would tolerate with an even temper, like a tough but gentle bulldog getting his head scratched.
You just got the sense from Nick that even in the down-to-earth, blue-collar world of public works, he knew what it meant to be gentle. Not sissy-gentle, the kind of thing those road workers in the suits would be embarrassed about; but the kind of gentle a grandfather has, the kind of gentle a machine operator learns when he finds that equipment sometimes does the job better it you dont force it.
Crawford wasnt a big guy. Even if hed been 6 feet tall he wouldnt have had the kind of imposing presence some really big people have. He commanded attention just because you really wanted to hear what he had to say.
Many people will miss Nick Crawford. Columbia County government certainly missed him when he tried to retire; they first brought him back to keep an eye on sales-tax spending, and then brought him back again as a consultant to ease the transition for his eventual replacement.
I know Ill miss him just because he was a nice guy, the kind of guy to shake your hand and shoot straight. By God, we sure could use more men like that.
Rest in peace, Nick.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)
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