We are writing to share the very sad news that our dearest friend, Charlie Crawford passed away at 4:45 this morning (9/11). Charlie was at home with his wife, Susan, and his Seeing Eye Dog, Razen, and his death followed a short illness.
We’ve lost a true advocate and friend. And this is such a sad day for the blindness community. Forty-nine years ago, with the guidance of Durward McDaniel, Charlie was the founder and first president of ACB’s Massachusetts affiliate, the Blind Leadership Club, which later became known as Bay State Council of the Blind.
After directing the Client Assistance Program at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Charlie was appointed Commissioner in 1984, a position he held until 1998 when he left Boston to become executive director of ACB.
We find it particularly poignant that Charlie should pass away on the anniversary of 9-11. That terrible morning in 2001, his primary concern was that all the national office staff get home safely from downtown Washington, D.C. So typical of Charlie, he made sure that each one of us was safely headed toward home and family before he and his then Seeing Eye dog, Ruthie, found their way onto the Metro.
Charlie spent his entire adult life advocating for people with disabilities and the human and civil rights of all people. His caring nature has been a reminder to all of us who called him friend.
— Penny Reeder, Montgomery Village, Md., and Terry and Frank Pacheco, Wheaton, Md.
This is, indeed, sad news. As Penny correctly stated, our nation’s blindness community has lost a true friend and advocate.
While Charlie and I were on quite opposite sides, politically, we were still able to get together and advocate on things which affected people who are blind; that’s how it should be, as blindness and disability issues should be non-partisan. During his time serving as executive director of ACB, Charlie did work with us in Illinois. As some of you may remember, in the late 1990s, mainly through the tenacity of the late Dave Postle, we were advocating for creation of a Commission for the Blind in Illinois. On an early March, snowy day that year, Charlie, M.J. Schmitt, Dave, Laura Booker (our then office manager) and I went to testify before an Illinois Senate committee for legislation which, if it had been passed, would have established the commission. This was, unfortunately, before the time that ICB and NFBI began working together on things, and NFBI was opposed to our commission bill. The testimony Charlie gave in favor of our legislation was impassioned and strong. I remember how NFBI under their leadership at the time testified against our bill and how angry that made Charlie. Paul Edwards was ACB president at the time and I remember M.J. and I thinking some phone lines between Maryland and Florida would be burning when Charlie got home. By the way, that was also the day when MJ’s guide dog was going around visiting all the Senators.
Rest in peace, Charlie.
— Ray Campbell, Glen Ellyn, Ill.
This is very sad news. Charlie dedicated his life to the betterment of our blind and visually impaired community. Several times over the past few years Charlie has sent me very poignant emails expressing passionate opinions on transportation, audio description or rehab advocacy issues. He was always so thoughtful and had the voice of someone willing to educate and persuade. Also, Charlie always had time to celebrate our victories and have a good time with a party or get-together. Charlie, our organization will miss you. Thank you for being such an advocate for all of us.
— Dan Spoone, Orlando, Fla.
On hearing of Charlie’s passing today I have been so sad, and my heart is so heavy. ACB of Maryland has lost a friend, advocate and champion. I remember a talk I gave to ACB of Ohio many years ago where I spoke about Charlie and referred to him as the heart and soul of ACB. I believed it at that time and still do. He was an advocate for us all and helped to create a vision for our organization where we felt anything was possible.
John F. Kennedy was one of his heroes, and Charlie often quoted Kennedy. When asked why he advocated for so many, he quoted Kennedy by saying that he was able to have the full use of his powers along lines of excellence. That was our Charlie. Thank you, Charlie, for giving so much to so many. You will be greatly missed.
— Patrick Sheehan, Silver Spring, Md.
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 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 cheerleader, 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 Razen 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.
— Debbie Grubb, Bradenton, Fla.
All I can say is: “Oh, my god!” I first met Charlie in the late ‘70s when I was attending Harvard Law School. I remember spending more than a few Saturday evenings with him and his then wife Kathy in Newton, which, believe me, was some badly needed rest and recreation. He and Kathy were actually the ones who introduced me to ACB when they invited me to the 1978 convention of the Bay State Council.
— John McCann, Tucson, Ariz.
The passing of Charlie Crawford is also a piece of ACB history. I got to know Charlie and accompanied him during the summer of 2000 when I was one of 2 students interning with the national office. I attended several meetings on Capitol Hill. Prior to those visits, Capitol Hill was a daunting place. Charlie’s ease with talking with high-ranking officials while negotiating from meeting to meeting definitely had a lasting impression on me. Another meeting I attended with Charlie and office staff was a reception at the FCC where we were celebrating a small victory for audio description to be a part of primetime network TV.
Charlie also had great post-work skills, hosting barbecues at his home and making this California kid welcome and involved. It was that summer that I truly became immersed with ACB and I can’t thank Charlie, Sue, and the national folks at the time for allowing me the opportunity to work among respected folks. That summer was one of the busiest, most fun and educational 8 weeks of my life.
Charlie, you leave a great legacy and will be missed deeply.
— Richard Rueda, Sacramento, Calif.
Charlie will be deeply missed. We were all honored to have known him.
What I liked about Charlie is he did things because they needed to get done, it was the right thing to do ... He never did something for the name recognition.
I remember having a lengthy conversation with Charlie one day while he worked for ACB. At the end of the conversation, I thanked him for spending so much time with me, a young person who had so much to learn about policy, legislation and ACB. He told me that he considered me a friend because he could see I wanted to learn — and learn I have!
Let’s keep the work of Charlie alive and keep on educating ourselves on what needs to be done for the betterment of all blind people.
— Lori Scharff, Waynesboro, Va.
I remember in either 2001 or 2002 when Charlie attended the Nebraska state convention, held that year in Lincoln. Knowing his passion for advocacy and what I rightly or wrongly perceived as his disdain for the Federation, I told him he might want to consider toning down his remarks slightly because we were having a number of Federation folks in the audience from our newly created Commission for the Blind in 2001. It turned out that added fuel to the fire and not only did he not tone down his remarks, but instead ramped them up. Needless to say, some of the Federation folks were not pleased. But as he saw it, they needed to hear the truth from an unbiased source.
— Jim Jirak, Omaha, Neb.