Robert Crew was proud of his reputation as a curmudgeon. He worked hard at maintaining that gruff exterior, but friends knew the hard shell covered a marshmallow heart. We were good friends for a long time and shared laughs and heartbreaks. I sat with him in a hospital as he mourned the loss of a granddaughter at birth, and I wept more than once over his illness. Robert stood beside Regina and me at our wedding, and he and Jacque became part of our lives. We had fun times on trips and just hanging out together. A wide range of interests and personal characteristics made Robert unique. He was a leader in the State Department of Education and at Northwestern for years and was a long-time professional photographer. But he also had a fascination with cars, magic tricks, percussion music, bargains, spit-shined shoes, bowties, ethnic foods, racquetball and gadgets. He put up elaborate Christmas and Mardi Grad decorations early and pestered neighbors to do the same. He was always early.
The first time he invited us to dinner, he said he would pick us up at 6:30 but showed up before 6. I was mowing the yard. We learned to adjust and get ready early. Robert’s interest in vehicles ranged from Jeep Wranglers to old trucks to a Porsche sports car that he dinged up when he ran over a coyote. The vehicles gleamed. He would call on Saturday mornings asking if I wanted to bring a car over and let him help me wax it. He loved to wax cars, and nobody was better at it. His son remembers how he liked to do magic tricks but was always surprised when he got them right. We laughed when his tricks failed, but it was even funnier when they worked and he was shocked. We were in Colorado once, and he found a magic shop. He paid eight bucks for a trick quarter. He was distressed later in the day when he accidentally put it in a coke machine. Robert liked telling about the time a waiter dropped thousand island dressing on my head and a manager with pimples came out to address the problem with a dirty, greasy kitchen towel. His favorite restaurant was a Greek place in Baton Rouge. He ordered us both Chicken Shawarma my first time there and was surprised I didn’t like it. He said it would grow on me and ordered it for both of us every time we went. We both loved chocolate covered cherries, and he would bring a box to my office. We would open them, swear to have just one each and eat the whole box. Robert was competitive.
He was good in racquetball and beat me regularly. I tried to be a good sport about it. I would beat him in badminton, and he would break his racket and then mine. Regina and I took Robert on great fishing trips to a private lake. We filled the boat with bass, but he pouted because Regina always caught more than we did. He insisted on driving when we went to Waco once because he said he knew all the speed traps on the way. A policeman pulled us over for speeding in Robeline. We went in a men’s store in Little Rock that was having a big sale. I convinced a salesman to tell him the lower rates were just for in-state residents.
Robert got loud and caused a scene. Robert, Randy Webb and I had breakfast together a lot. Randy was tight with his money. We flipped coins, and the odd man paid the bill. Robert and I plotted to have matching heads or tails, and Randy lost every day. Robert loved it when he fussed and fumed. Randy and I would get Robert’s dander up by telling him that one of the pictures he made was fuzzy and out of focus. Robert played the drums in high school and enjoyed big band music with heavy percussion. But he knew I loved country music and went with us to see Mickey Gilley and Mel Tillis in Branson. We sloshed around in snow to see landmarks in Washington, laughing and telling stories the whole time. But Robert got quiet and misty-eyed at John Kennedy’s gravesite. Robert was a good man whose friendships lasted a lifetime. He told the truth and kept his promises. If you told him something in confidence, you never had to worry that he would repeat it. Hundreds of friends, former students, colleagues and neighbors from far and wide who attended Robert’s funeral last month talked about how Robert was always there when they needed him. They treasured his friendship, just as Regina and I did.