Clarence Earl Crawford

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He Lived Northwest History

Clarence Earl Crawford was born July 11, 1911 in Vader, Washington to an Alaskan mining family (father Dawson didn't trust Alaskan doctors so his kids were born in Washington). Clarence's early childhood was spent in a chilly mining camp upcountry from Anchorage, but during his school years he lived a rural outdoor life with his six sisters near Colby, Washington. He quit school during the 8th grade to go to work in a box factory to help support the family, but soon returned to Alaska where father Dawson was steam engineer at the Salt Chuck Mine on Prince of Wales Island. Dawson almost immediately quit and 16-year-old Clarence was left holding the bag as steam engineer!

When the mine closed a year later he held various jobs in the then rowdy, frontier-like town of Ketchikan. Work in Alaska dried up in the early years of the Depression and Clarence was saved from destitution by the Citizen Conservation Corps (a New Deal program) which had him work on a crew building trail near Lake Cushman, Washington. Back in Alaska, he started finding work on boats, and by 1936 he was captain of the Taku II, a 60-foot launch carrying passengers and mail in the coastal waterways around Ketchikan. On August 11, 1937 the ship's steam plant exploded while at the dock in Ketchikan, blowing Clarence into the water, but his only permanent injury was the loss of one eye.

In the hospital, he met a nurse who became his first wife and the mother of his son Dennis and daughter Carolyn. During this period he left the sea and took up carpentry and the building trade in Ketchikan, but when he and wife Alice divorced about 8 years later, he moved to Portland, Oregon where he met and married my mother Bernice when she returned from serving as an army nurse in WWII. He was a builder in the Portland area from 1947-67 and built a number of houses almost single-handed, having a dislike for employing others.

My mother's sudden death in 1963 left him lonely and he married his much younger third wife in 1966, moving to the Seattle area two years later. In later life he spent some years as a construction company employee but also did much self-employed building and remodeling work, including building both of the 2 houses the family lived in after leaving a rental home in 1971. At the age of 70 (after smoking for 50 years) he developed prostate cancer. This finally made him quit smoking! The cancer was successfully removed and never recurred, but a minor stroke suffered during the operation caused him to gradually lose control of his legs over a period of years. After age 80 he was confined to a wheelchair (under the care of third wife Sharon), but his mind remained alert until a few days before his death (from complications of traumatic lung inflammation) on May 21, 2004 at his home in Des Moines, Washington.

[tribute written by Rod Crawford]