A spoonful of Sugar

A spoonful of Sugar

At 39, Laura Crawley’s strong and slender limbs are masked behind her black leggings and rubber flip-flops. Normally a marathon runner, she had to change her workout because of a stress fracture. Fresh out of her yoga class, Crawley sat at the table, tearing her sour dough bread apart with her shivering hands. “I’m cold,” she said with a quiver. A blue bandana pulled her cinnamon hair back from her cornflower blue eyes and fresh face lacking makeup. She brought her chilled fingers above her ears that contained only one gold stud to point to the gray hairs that weren’t there. “I watch all of these people spend all of this money to fight growing older,” she said. “This gray hair is part of my experience.”

Her unconventional approach to age is the culmination of experiences now important to her position at TCU as assistant dean of Campus Life and health promotion.

Part of the position, Crawley said, is part of a committee that observes students, asks questions and makes recommendations.

“Our job is to look at issues that affect our students’ health, in a holistic way,” she said.

That includes educating students on violence prevention, study skills, time management and suicide prevention. Other issues she and the committee considers are alcohol and drug use, sharing prescription drugs, safety shuttles and the health of the faculty and staff. Glory Robinson, associate dean of Campus Life, said it was Crawley’s experience and intelligence that impressed her during interviews.

“One of her major skills is being able to communicate with others, in which I think she does an excellent job,” she said. “She’s hard-working. She seems to be very honest. She seems to be one you can talk to easily.”

Growing up

Before Crawley became a preventative health promoter, she was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, a place that fostered her interest in health and community outreach.

“As far as health and service, I started early,” she said. “I came from a family that valued service.”

Born the youngest of four, a status shared by a twin brother, Crawley said her father was a large influence. As a social worker, her father got involved with a Vietnamese immigration camp and would take her and her siblings to play with the immigrants who sought sanctuary from the Vietnam War. She said she played with the Vietnamese kids on a regular basis. On Sundays, her family would invite about 12 to 15 immigrants over to their home for dinner.

Her father’s job also allowed Crawley to witness other realms of social work. Because her father also worked with a local mental health agency, Crawley said, the family hosted many mentally ill patients in its home for six to nine-month increments over a three-year period. Although her father was not a psychologist, he still helped out the patients with what he was skilled in, she said.

“My father was about the everyday … functioning,” Crawley said. He looked at the holistic aspect of their health and helped them develop some independency, she explained with the help of her hands.

“It wasn’t like my family had a lot of money growing up – this is just how they chose to spend it,” she said. She said she can remember some of the psychotic tendencies of patients her family hosted, such as a woman who tried to catch sunlight reflecting from the window onto a wall.

As the kids grew into puberty, her parents stopped inviting mental patients into their home and the children went to soup kitchens and youth “penitentiaries,” which housed minors too dangerous for regular juvenile halls a few times a year.

College life

With her childhood of service in mind and following her father’s footsteps, Crawley headed to California Baptist University and graduated in 1989 with undergraduate degrees in sociology and social work. Although she enjoyed her college experiences, such as skinny-dipping in the vice chancellor’s pool, putting a couch in the bell tower and learning how to change into a bikini on the freeway, she still yearned for something more. With the help of her major professor and colleagues, Crawley said, she developed into a healthier person.

“They mentored a lot of us women,” she said. “They would challenge us.”

Crawley said that in the mid to late 1980s, women still had a more domestic role, but that her professors went against the tide. She remembered telling her professor that she was too afraid to have strong opinions because that wasn’t her societal place. She said her professor responded, “Oh, that’s not my world. I don’t think that’s yours either.”

In another realm

Keeping her “feminist” professor’s words in mind, she thought beyond what she was expected to do, and instead, did what she could do. After working in a home for troubled boys after graduation, Crawley headed to Africa in 1991 for two years and taught English, distributed medicine and took people who were too ill to be at home to centers.

“I grew up a lot there,” she said. “The world was a lot bigger than I had been raised in.”

Crawley took in a lot in Africa. She remembered a young girl who developed gangrene from gauze that was never changed after she broke her arm falling out of a mango tree. She talked about her bout with malaria. Her most vivid memory, however, was when she first realized that she could contribute to the community in her own way. A pregnant woman approached her because she saw that Crawley owned a truck. The woman needed a ride to the hospital and it became apparent that the baby was coming soon when her water broke in the back seat. Crawley said she tried to drive slowly because of the deep pits in her path.

“These roads were worse than country roads,” she said. “It takes a lot of gumption to survive when you don’t always have access to health care.”

The woman got to the hospital in time and Crawley felt that she had a major part in the birth. She said she thought to herself, “I’m probably not going to be a doctor … well, one person can drive a truck and get to the hospital.”

Two Horned Frogs fell in love

She returned to California at age 27 to work in a home for court-appointed children before moving on to graduate school at TCU, where she obtained her master’s from the Brite Divinity School in theological studies. From 1994 to December of 1997, she worked for Residential Services and became the hall director for Jarvis and Sherley Halls.

Mary Ruth Jones, the office assistant in Sherley Hall, has been an administrative assistant at TCU for 20 years and knew Crawley as a graduate student.

“She’s always been a very outgoing person,” she said. “She spent a lot of time with her residents. She blossomed as a hall director.”

Crawley not only started a career path at TCU, but also met her husband, Robert Crawley, in 1994. Robert Crawley, 41, was a graduate student working as a program coordinator in Martin-Moore Hall at the time.

He said they were both tailgating at the house of Don Mills, vice chancellor of Student Affairs, when Laura introduced herself to him. He said it took him an entire semester to ask her on a date.

Although he adores her fun personality, quick wit and constant desire to improve herself and others around her, the laidback California native said it was her roots that drew him in for life.

He said with a smile, “The California thing was the icing on the cake. I never thought I’d meet a Californian in Texas.

“She’s the exciting half. She’d hop in my truck and would not stop talking.”

Virginia-bound

The couple married in 1996 and lived in Idaho and Maryland for two years before settling in Virginia for four years, where Laura Crawley worked in the office of the dean of students and in the residence life office from 2000 to 2004 at the University of Virginia.

Sitting behind her cluttered desk, she brought up the images of the historic UVA lawn and pavilion on the Internet. She rubbed lotion between her hands and talked about the situations she saw at Virginia. “There was a lot of pressure to achieve.

“I never met an undeclared student in four years.”

She said that because of the pressures the students felt, she encountered a lot of mental health issues and anxiety in students. Although a part of her job was to educate students on alcohol, most of her work was in crisis management and response.

Lillian Lacy met Crawley as a senior at Virginia, working on the resident staff. She spoke over the phone with reverence at the mention of Crawley’s name.

“She was doing a lot of counseling for students,” she said. “Laura was always incredibly compassionate. She always wanted you to learn from a situation,” she said.

Lacy said she was always impressed with Crawley’s ability to relate to her students.

“Laura became the running partner of several students,” she said. “That was definitely part of her appeal. She has all of this energy.”

Anne Magnan, who also met Crawley at Virginia when she worked as an area coordinator, agreed with Lacy.

“She connects with students like they’re one of her peers,” she said. “Just because someone’s 18 doesn’t mean they’re stupid and I think Laura would agree.”

Magnan said Crawley used to run in the evening, trotting past the fraternity houses, waving to people.

“Laura just is what she says. She sets an example.”

Besides setting an example, Crawley has an easygoing personality that made students comfortable. Magnan said she would never forget meeting Crawley.

“She definitely said ‘Laura Crawley. Damn glad to meet ya!”

Back to Cowtown

Her impression seems to stay in other people as well. After four years, Crawley left Virginia to live in Lawrence, Kan. for 15 months before residing in Fort Worth for the second time. When the position of health promotion opened at TCU, Crawley was asked to interview. In September 2005, she and her husband returned to TCU; this time Laura Crawley became the assistant dean of Campus Life and health promotion and Robert Crawley was hired as an adviser for Academic Services.

Laura Crawley said she enjoys her job at TCU because it allows her to use preventative measures instead of reactive implementations, such as her job at Virginia.

“If we can lower those numbers of assault by creating an environment that doesn’t lend to it,” Crawley said, providing an example. “It’s a lot more challenging to my intelligence.”

That intellectual challenge, she said, is what keeps her young.

Crawley finished her bread and soup and eyed their remnants as the server carried them away.

“I like my age and what it took to get me this age,” she said.

Leaving the restaurant, Crawley turned to watch a group of elderly women with wintry gray hair enter the eatery. She took in their confident demeanors despite their purple varicose veins and wrinkled skin underneath their short neon blue, green and pink tennis skirts before she exclaimed, “I just love that! I love that! I think that is the bomb!