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Robert W. Crawford

1906 - 1995

Inducted October 2001

 "Recreation is a necessity, not a luxury. It provides an opportunity for re-creation, a chance to make those self-discoveries that lead to fulfillment and happiness."
~Robert W. Crawford

Born in 1906 to a family of Scottish immigrants, Robert W. Crawford led a life that his sons would later say “epitomized the classic American dream.” From coal mining camps to high school and university football fi elds; as husband, father, and grandfather; from student to teacher; from follower to leader, Crawford rose to the heights of the parks and recreation fi eld and carried a profession with him.

Crawford was a professional in the fi eld of parks and recreation for over 50 years. He graduated from Des Moines University, New York University, and the National Recreation School. Following completion of the 12 month National Recreation School, he accepted a newly created position as director of recreation for the town of Hastings on the Hudson River in New York. His position had been created in response to a local tragedy of one child killing another. Recreation was seen as a means of reducing juvenile delinquency. After six years in Hastings, Crawford accepted a position as director of a new community center at a large public housing project in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn where he stayed for two years.

He then became director of recreation for Montclair, NJ, a bedroom community of 50,000 adjacent to New York City. His service here was interrupted by World War II. In February 1944, he accepted a commission in the United States Navy where he would serve as a welfare and recreation officer for the Seventh Fleet in the Philippines.

June 28, 1966, Visitors from Operation Crossroads Africa are greeted by Recreation Commissioner Robert W. Crawford at the dedication ceremonies of the new playground at 16th and Federal Streets.
Philadelphia Department of Recreation

Following World War II, Crawford was hired as director of recreation in Oakland, CA. After six highly-productive and successful years in Oakland, he was recruited to head a newly reorganized Department of Recreation in Philadelphia, PA. It was here that Robert Crawford enjoyed his greatest accomplishments.

Crawford directed the Philadelphia Recreation Department for more than a quarter of a century. Under his leadership, the city developed one of the finest recreation systems in the country. While serving five mayoral administrations, his department encompassed not only neighborhood parks and playgrounds of the most imaginative and creative design, but included one of the most extensive sport and cultural programs in the nation.

When Crawford came to Philadelphia in 1952 to direct the city’s newly organized department of recreation, he took over a program consisting of fewer than 100 facilities. During his 29 year tenure in Philadelphia, he developed the recreation program into one that now has a total of 853 facilities, including 47 recreation centers, 145 playgrounds, 24 park playgrounds, 84 swimming pools, 192 neighborhood parks, 10 play lots, four ice rinks, seven youth camps, and 15 specialty sites including Veteran’s Stadium and Kennedy Stadium. He developed a strong relationship with the city’s cultural organizations as well as with key business and industry leaders.

Commissioner Crawford’s belief that the community should be involved in decisions affecting their neighborhoods led him to nearly 1,000 public meetings. His commitment to community involvement further led him to establish the Recreation Advisory Council, which grew from seven original members to 3,000 citizen advisors participating in 127 local advisory councils, 12 district councils, and one citywide group. The Philadelphia Department of Recreation became the foremost proponent for citizen participation in the planning, organizing, and developing of community recreation programs.

National Recreation Association Philadelphia Interns. From left: John Dawson, Betty VanNorman, Robert W. Crawford, John G. Williams, Ralph Laudenshayer, and Charles E. Hartsoe.
Courtesy of Charles E. Hartsoe

In addition, while commissioner of recreation, he was elected to serve concurrently as president of the Fairmount Park Commission, a 4,700-acre park within Philadelphia’s city limits established in 1867 and managed by a 10 member citizen commission. This honor was symbolic of the confidence that Philadelphia leaders had in Crawford.

Crawford felt a deep responsibility to prepare leaders for the future. While in Philadelphia, he developed a nationally recognized postmasters internship program in cooperation with the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA). It trained 42 graduates selected from colleges and universities across the country. He assisted graduates from the program in moving into leadership positions in the recreation and park field throughout the country.

Crawford was nationally recognized as one of the top authorities in the field of recreation and parks. He was the first professional elected to serve as president of the NRPA. He was the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from Temple University and an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from Grinnell College.

Crawford played a key role in the formation of both the NRPA and the National Recreation Foundation. He was internationally recognized for his innovative and creative leadership. While he was executive director of the National Recreation Foundation, he was responsible for advancing many new programs around the country. He was also responsible for the creation of many new entities, such as the Recreation and Park Hall of Fame.

Adapted from: Hartsoe, C, Sanders, D & Bridges, M (eds) (2009), Profiles in Leadership: Robert W. Crawford Recreation and Park Hall of Fame. National Recreation and Park Association and American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration.

  • American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration. (1983). Legends of the American Park and Recreation Association . Downloaded on May 10, 2008 from http://www.aapra.org/ legends.html
  • Crawford, R.W. (1993). Reflections of a recreation professional. National Recreation and Park Association.
  • Ibrahim, H. (1989). Pioneers in leisure and recreation. Reston, VA: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.

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