South Charlotte

Humanitarian’s efforts boost education with scholarship

John T. Crawford has helped so many people that I’m afraid I’m can’t do justice to this humanitarian.

Crawford, who is celebrating his 78th birthday this month, was born in Gastonia and grew up in Rock Hill.

“My father, John R., was 60 when I was born. And since my older brother had died in childbirth, my concerned parents went to a hospital in Gastonia, where my aunt was a nurse, to make sure I’d be born OK – and live,” Crawford said. “My birthday is Jan. 23, 1938.”

He later had a younger brother, Robert, who has since died of cancer.

Crawford was raised on a farm where the family grew cotton, corn, wheat and grain. His mother, Essie, was a teacher.

As a boy, Crawford remembers seeing World War II soldiers training near where he lived. The soldiers shared share their rations, such as sugar, with his family.

Crawford played basketball all through high school and one year of football.

“I wasn’t very good at football,” Crawford said.

He also played the trumpet in the band.

In 1955, Crawford left for college with his eye on a teaching degree. He majored in physical education and health at Johnson C. Smith University. He also played power forward on the basketball team; he was very good.

He said as a junior, he averaged 13 points and 11 rebounds, and as a senior he averaged 13 rebounds and 15 points. In 1959, he was named athlete of the year.

Crawford then picked up golf during his last semester in college.

“While I was in school, Dr. Jack Brayboy served as a mentor to me. He was then head of the education department, and a past JCSU athlete and scholar,” Crawford said.

The Johnson C. Smith gymnasium is named for Dr. Jack S. Brayboy.

Following graduation in 1960, Crawford accepted a teaching position at West Charlotte High School. There, he coached golf and junior varsity basketball, in addition to teaching. Irving Avenue Junior High School then offered Crawford a coaching and athletic director job, which he took. After three years, Crawford returned to West Charlotte, where he stayed for another six years.

“We did some great things at West Charlotte, and I’m very proud of the students and student athletes we produced,” Crawford said.

Crawford’s life took on a new direction when he went to work for the Charlotte Housing Authority, eventually becoming director of community services.

After seven years, Crawford said he became director of youth services.

“One day, a resident of the housing authority told me he needed $300 to be able to return to school for his senior year and graduate, and he had no way of getting the money. I knew I couldn’t let that young man fail to graduate for a lack of funds, so I approached a friend and together we came up with the money,” Crawford said.

From that effort, the idea was born of starting a scholarship to help other underprivileged, but talented, students who live in public housing.

Crawford approached advisers, formed a committee and set about raising money for the program, which became Charlotte Housing Authority Scholarship Fund.

“The student needs to learn to make a living – have a skill,” Crawford said. “The best advice I got was to partner with the Greater Charlotte Foundation, which is now known as the Foundation For The Carolinas.”

Crawford said as a teacher, he always told his students to be good students, be respectful of others and keep moving forward.

That first year, they raised over $64,000, according to the Charlotte Housing Authority website.

“At least 200 students have received degrees, and we have medical doctors, lawyers, engineers and Ph.D.’s among our graduates,” Crawford said. “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re going that matters.

“I received the nickname ‘T-Bone’ when I was in the third grade from a friend who walked 3 1/2 miles to school with me. He originally called me ‘John T-bone Steak.’ My friends still use my nickname,” Crawford said.

He was awarded an honorary doctorate in public service from UNC Charlotte in 2008.

Now retired, Crawford is on the advisory board of the scholarship fund. He teaches golf and still enjoys playing.

“My 2-handicap is now about an eight or ten,” Crawford.

He and his wife Gayle have been married 23 years. Crawford has a daughter, Lisa.