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A tribute to the life and legacy of Dorothy Rose Crawford

**I preface this article by admitting, that anything I write here will be inadequate to truly honor the brilliance of Dorothy Crawford. However, Dorothy’s accomplishments deserve to be celebrated and remembered every single day. From a personal note, after I wrote an article for Dot’s 100 birthday, she called me to compliment the article, and even today it stands as one of my proudest accomplishments to know she appreciated my article.**

After an incredible 102 years on this earth, Dorothy Rose Crawford was called home on December 21, 2020. Although Dorothy is no longer with us, her life’s work will most certainly leave a lasting legacy on not just Macon County, but all of North Carolina. 

Macon County Commission Vice Chair Ronnie Beale opened the January board meeting with a moment of silence in her honor saying that, “I have no doubt that just because Dorothy Rose Crawford is no longer here with us, she is still up there working for us.” 

No matter what she faced in the more than a century Dorothy Rose Crawford was alive, she approached every situation the same; with the mindset that  “you just have to keep on, keeping on.” A life’s motto she has repeated and preached up and down the North Carolina landscape, the life and legacy of Dorothy Crawford is one that will likely never be matched by another individual.

Dot is considered a trailblazer in that she was a woman who publicly advocated for others in a society that, in her younger years, was overwhelmingly male-dominated. She dedicated herself to helping local residents improve their lives, particularly the most vulnerable individuals who needed the most assistance.

“There truly isn’t anyone else in the world like Dorothy Rose Crawford,” said Commissioner Beale. “There wasn’t an issue she wouldn’t tackle or a problem she couldn’t solve. She is solely responsible for programs and policies that are used across North Carolina today. She was an innovator. She was the first to realize a problem and then the first to step up and provide a solution.”

To know Dorothy was to love her; was to admire her; was to respect her. To know Dorothy Rose Crawford was the opportunity to know the real-life embodiment of selflessness and diligence. Her entire life was dedicated to others — to the aging population, to the less fortunate, to those struggling with mental health issues — Dorothy was an advocate, a champion, a pillar for those most in need across the state of North Carolina. 

“Mrs. Crawford will always hold a special place in my heart, as she was such an amazing woman,” said Macon County Manager Derek Roland. “The love she held for her family, friends, and Macon County was evident in all that she did.  I couldn’t help but think while viewing the slideshow at Mrs. Crawford’s memorial service how much the Lord had blessed her with such a long and beautiful life, and what an appropriate blessing that was for one of the greatest women I have ever known.”

Born in 1918 in a small rural community in northwest Alabama, “Dot” Crawford was the daughter of a mail carrier and a former school teacher. She attended David Lipscomb College and earned her BA from George Pepperdine College in Los Angeles. Her days of service were even evident during her college career as while attending David Lipscomb College in Nashville she served as the secretary of the International Relational Club; vice-president of the Press Club; captain of the Pep squad and received the honor of “Miss D.L.P.” While at George Pepperdine College, she was a member of th educational club, member of the Press club, secretary of the senior class, secretary of all student boards member of the Alpha Gamma Society, and assistant editor on the Promenade.

While earning her Masters in Social Work at UNC Chapel Hill, she met her future husband John L. Crawford whom she married on March 12, 1942, in Victoria, TX where John was a pilot in the US Army Air Corps during WW II.

After a short stint working as a social worker for Davidson County and in Lauderdale County, Ala., where she grew up, Dot moved to Texas, where her husband was stationed at an Air Force base and where they were married in March 1942.

After World War II, the couple moved to Franklin, John Crawford’s hometown, where he got a job as a postal carrier and Dot got a job, on Feb. 15, 1952, as a social worker for the county. She was named director of the county Department of Social Services in 1958, after serving as a caseworker for the department for seven years, and retired June 30, 1984, six months after her husband retired.

She was appointed Director of Macon County Department of Welfare in 1958, a position she held until her retirement on June 30, 1984. Dorothy helped to establish what we know today as the Macon County Department of Social Services and from its inception until long after she retired, Dorothy was dedicated to her purpose of serving the community. 

She has been instrumental in the creation of dozens of organizations and agencies that serve the most vulnerable citizens. From being a founding board member for the Southwestern Child Development Commission, a board on which she continued to serve until her final days.

“Oh my goodness, where does one start to talk about the Life of Dorothy Crawford?,” said Sarajane H. Melton Region A AAA Director for Southwestern Commission. “From her many many trips throughout the years to Raleigh to make sure that WNC had a voice at the table, to her ability to call the Governor’s office and say this is “Dot” and they would put her through.  And of course, we can not forget John, her ever-present and a steady sidekick for so many years.  You can not talk about one without the other, but I know this is about Dorothy  Dorothy Crawford was certainly in my eyes, a person who stood up for the rights, voices, and needs of others.  Whether it be, a child, a single parent, a person suffering from mental illness, or an older adult, Dot was the person who would speak up and it didn’t matter who she needed to speak to, she was always willing.  She would say, “they may not listen, but it is my job to tell them”  I can’t control what they do after that.  But I can tell them again!   Most as you know listened. I am certainly a better person for being allowed to be a part of Dorothy Crawford’s life!”

Dorothy was a two-time recipient of North Carolina’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest honor the state’s Governor can bestow upon someone. In 2006 Governor Mike Easley awarded her The Order of the Long Leaf Pine for her meritorious service to the citizens of North Carolina and then in the spring of 2018, as Dorothy celebrated her 100 birthday, Governor Roy Cooper also awarded Dorothy the Order of the Long Leaf Pine for her continued service to the citizens of North Carolina.

“If you look up the definition of ‘community servant’, there will undoubtedly be a picture attached of Dot Crawford,” said Macon County Board of Commission Chair Jim Tate. “There is no possible way to recognize in words the amount of time, energy, mileage, effort, and most importantly love that she poured into making our community a better place for all of us to call home.  She will be greatly missed, but her legacy will undoubtedly live on forever.”

Dorothy worked as hard during her retirement for the people of North Carolina as she did during her career. Even after a 25-year career as the director, Dot’s real work didn’t begin until retirement. Formed in 1992, the Macon County Community Foundation has awarded a nearly $1 million in grants and scholarships to the local area. One of the Foundation’s first funds was a scholarship endowment Dot created at Franklin Church of Christ-McCollum Drive with funds from her father’s estate. In her obituary, Dot asked that instead of flowers, donations be made to the scholarship fund, which continues to help the community today. 

In 2012 the Macon County Senior Service building was named after Dot and her husband John in recognition of all they had done for the aging population in Macon County. 

“Every day when I come to work, I see Dorothy Crawford’s name on our building and I am reminded of the impact she has had on so many lives of Maconians and people all across the state,” said Jennifer Holyfield, demonstrative Officer for Macon County Senior Services. “Her love for Macon County and its residents was immense and she will be greatly missed.  But, in true Dorothy Crawford words and actions, we must “Keep on keeping on!””

In addition to her former service on the board of directors of the Macon County Community Foundation, including a stint as chair, she has served as Franklin’s representative to the Affordable Housing Group in Charlotte and as a delegate to the North Carolina Senior Tar Heel Legislature, which she previously served as speaker. Dot was one of the founding members of the Smoky Mountain LME/MCO, now Vaya Health, which provides aid for mental health patients, substance abuse services, and intellectual/developmental disability services to the 23 western counties in the state. Dot remains active with Vaya Health and routinely travels to Raleigh on the organization’s behalf continuing to advocate for better services in Macon County and across North Carolina. Dot served a member of the Commission on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services.

“Dorothy “Dot” Crawford was a pioneer in North Carolina’s public behavioral health care system and a champion for the residents of Macon County,” said Brian Ingraham, President, and CEO of Vaya Health. “For more than six decades, she worked to improve the lives of individuals in western North Carolina. Her innovative accomplishments and meritorious service were lauded by elected officials, but Dot wasn’t one to rest on accolades. In fact, at the 2018 dedication ceremony naming Vaya Health’s board room in her honor, Dot used the opportunity not to wax poetic about a life well-lived, but to encourage those in attendance to work together and, in her words that we will fondly remember, “keep on keeping on”. 

Dot was a member of the Senior Tar Heel Legislature since its inception in 1993. She was the speaker of this body, the top position in 2002-2003, and continued to chair important committees for the group until her death.

“One of the highlights of my career came after I had been elected to the House of Representatives,” said Senator Kevin Corbin. “Dot was in town for a Senior Tar Heel Legislature meeting and it happened to be during a committee meeting I was Chairing. I got to bring Dot in and introduce her to my colleagues. I have known Dot literally my entire life, so getting to share that moment in my career with her was really special.”

She served on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging under two governors and she represented North Carolina at two White House Conferences on Aging. Her participation in state-level committees has resulted in her making the 300-plus mile trip from her home in Franklin to Raleigh numerous times a month — a trip she made proudly despite her age.

With decades of service to the community, Dot’s impact is not only evident in the agencies she has served, but in speaking with local and state leaders, who have grown up knowing Dot and have been inspired by her dedication. 

“Mrs. Dorothy Crawford was and is a legend to the people of Macon County, Region A, and North Carolina,” said Macon County Commissioner Gary Shields. “She chose to be a pioneer for the elderly and needy and was a mainstay in NC always being an advocate for the young, old, and people of need.  She has departed this earth physically but due to her legendary work of “serving”, her fingerprints will always be on the health and well-being of the many organizations and people of NC past, present, and future. Her son, Tommy, and I were in high school together, and Mrs. Crawford was a legend in the ’60s and when I returned to Franklin some 20 years later, she and her husband, John, were an intricate part of Macon County and her “fingerprints” will always be present and what a “team” they were.”

Senator Kevin Corbin’s mother worked alongside Dot when the Department of Social Services was first created. With just six women to run the entire department, the group was very close. Corbin said that he remembers when it came time for him to graduate from Appalachian State University, Dot made the trip all the way to Boone to watch him graduate and be there for him to celebrate. 

Corbin, along with other leaders like Sarajane H. Melton said that Dot never missed a birthday, always calling them and not just wishing them a happy birthday, but singing them Happy Birthday. 

“Dorothy would always wait until she knew I wasn’t home so she could sing Happy Birthday on my answering machine,” said Senator Corbin. “These last few years I have saved those messages and that is something I will cherish forever.” 

Dot Crawford was a visionary and a treasure not just to Macon County, but to the entire Tarheel State. She lived a life truly dedicated to others and will continue to have a never-ending, lasting impact on everything she has ever given her time to. While it seems harder than ever now that she is gone, the best way we all can honor her is to “Keep on, Keeping on.”

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