Crowley memorial: 'It was never about Joe. It was always about you.'

Campus, friends, family gather to honor University's 13th president

The memorial service for President Emeritus Joe Crowley on Saturday included recollections from his family, who are all pictured here.


1/8/2018 | By: John Trent |

Throughout Saturday's memorial service for Joe Crowley, the late president emeritus of the University, there was a definite feeling that somehow, someway, Crowley was somewhere viewing the proceedings.

Maybe that wasn't surprising.

The event was held, after all, in the building that was opened a decade ago in Crowley's honor - the Joe Crowley Student Union. In terms of the campus, there are few people with a longer association with the University than Joe Crowley.

He started his career as a member of the faculty in political science in 1966, then served as president for a record 23 years and continued, well after his presidency ended, to take classes on campus - as one of the featured speakers, English Professor Gailmarie Pahmeier poignantly recalled.

Perhaps most importantly of all, Crowley was an engaged and encouraging presence for his family and friends, playing a prominent role in the lives of his wife, Joy, his four children and seven grandchildren, as well as scores of friends and colleagues - nearly 500 of whom were on hand Saturday.

"Feel the love for Joe in this room," Crowley's son, Tim, who served as the emcee for the three-hour event in the Glick Ballrooms, said at the very beginning.

Tim a few minutes later then relayed a conversation he had with his father on Saturday morning. His father, never known for his brevity as a public speaker, had lobbied his son to make sure that the memorial was given enough time to breathe.

"A voice came to me," Tim said. "It was the big man. He said, 'What is this I hear about succinct?' He said, 'Take your time ... breathe.'" It was a service that indeed wasn't in a hurry. It was three hours long, filled with many humorous anecdotes and moving stories about Crowley and his influence on others.

His daughter, Margaret, talked of the Sunday morning walks she and her father went on, together, from the time she was 18 years old. The walks lasted nearly 35 years, until late October, when father and daughter took what turned out to be their final walk together.

Not long after, Crowley was hospitalized with pneumonia and while in the hospital was also diagnosed with severe Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. He passed away at age 84 on Nov. 28.

Margaret said the walks were one of the central, formative experiences of her life.

"We talked about our jobs, our lives, politics, our families," she said. "It spanned huge family milestones. My dad was there to walk me through them."

Margaret said the past few weeks had given her reason to realize that she wasn't the only person who had benefitted from Crowley's ability to spend quality time with people - as well as his talent of listening and providing low-key, but needed, encouragement when people had doubts about the best path to follow.

"I've come to realize so many of you had walks, like I did, with my father," she said. "It was never about Joe - it was always about you."

Son Neil recalled another key Crowley attribute. He said his father's love of sports had been passed down to him, and together, the two had experienced many of the highs and lows of serious sports fans. Neil said he attended his first Wolf Pack football game at age four, in 1968, with his father. Crowley often told people he had learned to read by poring through the agate newspaper type of major league baseball box scores as a youngster growing up in Olewein, Iowa.

Neil recalled that his father was "supremely generous. Even if I was late to the breakfast table, he'd have the sports page waiting for me so I could see it first."

On Nov. 25, Neil sat with family - but without his father, who was hospitalized - during the Wolf Pack's victory over rival UNLV at the Mackay Stadium. The son realized the moment was meaningful. It was one of the few times, during a milestone Wolf Pack victory, that the two weren't together.

"I felt it after that game," he said. "I knew that was the last time I'd be sitting in the same seat I had shared with my father. I will miss the phone calls, but I will carry you forever with me in any sporting events I watch."

Daughter Theresa, a longtime elementary school teacher, prepared a PowerPoint to honor her father. She also presented a video tribute of Crowley, known as "Bopa" by the seven Crowley grandchildren.

Theresa's words and photos emphasized the quirky, funny, and sensitive sides of Crowley. As she spoke, she wore a Wolf Pack football jersey with the No. 13. Crowley was the 13th president in University history. He had a long fascination with how that number had intersected key moments in his life.

Crowley, Theresa said, was a man who left loving sticky notes all over the house for his wife of 56 years, Joy, often signed "Joe (YH)" (Your Husband). He attacked cross word puzzles with uncommon ferocity, vigor and determination, using multiple colored pens to chart his progress. He was also fascinated - perhaps even obsessed, as Theresa described - with what she termed "fruit appreciation." Crowley was an expert peeler of fruits, particularly clementines and mandarins. Like a master woodcarver, he could dislodge the skin from the fruit without any breaks, "in one fell swoop," Theresa said. She then added, to widespread laughter throughout the Glick Ballrooms. "As he did, he'd leave their carcasses all over the house ... and you'd better appreciate them as he did."

Guest speakers, all describing various aspects of Crowley's life, were also featured.

Former Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich, who became friends with Crowley from his time as ASUN president in the early 1970s, said that Crowley's influence on the institution, and the state it served, was profound. "This magnetic and humble man took the thread of hundreds of lives for a shared vision of what this University should be, what this community could be and what we all must be," he said.

Added University President Marc Johnson: "Joe was the very best kind of university steward. He understood how to help our institution grow and evolve. He once wrote, 'We are required to be equal to a distinguished history, to safeguard the noble traditions that our long history has established, and to provide leadership, particularly in times of critical need.'"

Jason Frierson, who made history last year when he became the first African-American to serve as speaker of the Nevada State Assembly, said that without Crowley's guidance and encouragement, his own life might have been far different. Frierson was a talented Wolf Pack running back whose career ended due to a knee injury. Not sure where or what to do next, it was Crowley who gently helped nudge Frierson into law school, and then into a life of public service. "Joe saw something in me that I didn't see in myself," Frierson said. "He took the time that made you feel you mattered ... and it wasn't an act."

Richard Lapchick, whose distinguished career as an advocate for human rights, particularly in the important intersection between sports and society dates back to the time of his father, the legendary men's basketball coach Joe Lapchick of St. John's University, said he had known Crowley since 1986, when Lapchick's work with his Center for the Study of Sports and Society was hoping to establish consortium relationships with institutions of higher learning throughout the country.

Lapchick found an advocate and an ally in Crowley. Together, the two worked to find ways to help make intercollegiate athletics more diverse in administration and coaching, to find ways to help increase graduation rates for student-athletes from underserved groups, to give voice for athletes in the fight against discrimination and to find more stringent penalties for athletes and coaches involved with gender violence.

"Joe knew from his earliest days of his life that we are all part of the same human fabric," Lapchick said. "I always thought of Joe as one of those smooth stones you skip on a lake," Lapchick added. "It can land four or five places, and it creates all these circles that can come together. That's what Joe did - he brought us all together."

Like Theresa Crowley, Cary Groth, the former Wolf Pack athletics director and current senior lecturer in the College of Education, had recollections of the quirkier side of Crowley. She regularly had breakfast with Crowley, and before anything was even served, "We would always have to allocate enough time for people to stop by and visit him. There were no strangers to Joe. He always made everyone feel comfortable."

And if that wasn't enough, time would also have to be made for Crowley's very deliberate, and very detailed, way of ordering two poached eggs, medium, small orange juice, and pancakes that "I don't want to be the size of plate," Crowley would often say. His instructions, invariably done to the same waitress who waited on Groth and Crowley throughout their years of breakfasts at Archie's near campus, would then include long and elaborate hand gestures showing the exact size of pancakes Crowley wished to have. "He would go through this long visual exercise, each and every time, and it was always the same waitress," Groth recalled.

Brother Bill Crowley, an emeritus professor of geography at Sonoma State University who is nine years younger than Crowley, related how Crowley often made fun of the age difference, and somehow turned the tables on his younger brother, making people ask Bill if he was actually Crowley's older brother. Bill also related that his older brother would pull rank on him when they were boys, and would take command while washing dishes, leaving his younger brother the lesser role of drying them.

Crowley's dishwashing skills were such that several years ago, the Airliner Bar in Iowa City, Iowa - home to the University of Iowa, where Crowley earned his undergraduate degree - "they inducted Joe into the Airliner Bar Employee Hall of Fame ... In fact, he's the only member of that Hall of Fame."

Pahmeier, Reno's Poet Laureate, said her friendship with Crowley was somewhat unlikely. While Crowley was president, he had called Pahmeier, asking her if she would be willing to serve on the university's faculty athletics committee. Pahmeier told Crowley she thought he might be mistaken. "'I said, I'm just a poet,'" she recalled, "and he said, 'Exactly.'"

The call that Pahmeier said would change her life came "many years later" after Crowley had retired as president in 2000. He called Pahmeier to ask her permission to apply for a spot in her poetry workshop class. In best Crowley fashion, he took nothing for granted, dutifully filling out the application, and sending in sample poems.

"They were sonnets, and they were well-crafted," Pahmeier said. "They exhibited a true ear for the musicality of language. And they were funny."

Crowley would go on to be Pahmeier's student for a grand total of 13 semesters of classes. He not only worked on his own poetry, Pahmeier said, he found ways to help others as well.

"What I didn't expect was that Joe would be one of the most beloved members of our poetic community," Pahmeier said. She quickly did the math of 13 semesters of classes of about 15 or students, many of them young, in their 20s, working for an entire semester with the former president of the University, in his 70s and into his 80s. "Over 200 students now own the memory and privilege of having Joe as a classmate," she said, adding: "He believed if you do something, you commit to do it well, and for the well-being of your community."

Pahmeier then recalled how committed Crowley was to her class, his classmates and the craft of poetry. A huge snowstorm had hit Reno, and she had given the class the option of staying home that night. A few four-wheel-drive-loving students showed, class with the skeleton crew began, and then there was a clattering noise. With the roads unsafe for driving, the President Emeritus of the University had strapped on a pair of cleats and had slipped and skidded his way to campus from his home a couple of miles away on Muir Drive, and had arrived at Gailmarie's classroom, anxious to study and refine and to learn.

"His presence that night showed us that poetry is important business and attention must be made," Pahmeier said.

There it was again. The word "presence." Crowley's presence, real, imagined, through stories and through memory, was everywhere during Saturday's memorial.

As John Dodson, the minister and co-founder of one of the campus' mainstays for reflection and shared experience, the Center for Religion of Life, said to the assembled group, Crowley's life was one that changed the lives of many.

"If you truly want to honor Joe's memory," Dodson, a friend of Crowley's for more than a half-century, "take one of Joe's virtues - humor, patience, perseverance, kindness, respect, affirmation - whatever you know is your favorite virtue of Joe's ... take it, and make your mind grow and make that part of Joe become that reality in your life."    

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