By Steve Wolfgang
I had been to the cemetery many times before – too many to count. The Lexington Cemetery, one of the most beautiful in the country, is the resting place of the bodies of at least fifteen preachers well-known to students of Restoration History. We followed the familiar path past the towering monument over the tomb of Henry Clay Speaker of the House, Senator, Secretary of State, Presidential candidate, moderator in Alexander Campbell’s 1843 Lexington debate with Nathan L. Rice. One section removed lies the body of J.W. McGarvey.
Today was different, however. This was no enjoyable tour of interesting Restoration History sites. On this warm, windy, Wednesday, March 12, 1986, we had come to lay to rest the body of our fallen brother, Robert B. Crawley.
Bob Crawley was born May 29, 1928, into a family of Christians in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Attending David Lipscomb College as a 16-year-old high school student, he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1949. After one semester as a teaching assistant at the University of Florida, he moved to Indianapolis to preach at the 40th and Capitol church. While there, he married Leta Crosslin on May 7, 1950. Thus began more than thirty-five years of preaching the gospel of Christ.
As the procession wound past the grave of John T. Johnson (Congressman and gospel preacher; brother of Richard Johnson, Martin Van Buren’s Vice-President) and, just across the road, the marker commemorating the life of “Raccoon” John Smith, I found myself ‘thinking what many would express that day – how fitting, indeed, for Bob Crawley’s remains to await the resurrection in this location. Though where a person is buried matters little in the larger scheme of things, there was a sense of fitting conclusion to the choice of this location.
Bob had long had an interest in history, particularly the history of the Restoration, but in other aspects of the subject as well. This led him to earn a second baccalaureate degree at Birmingham-Southern College, and a graduate degree in ancient history and classical languages at the University of Kentucky during the 23 years he lived in Lexington. Several years ago, while he was hospitalized fighting the leukemia which afflicted him, I offered to obtain a new book pertaining to Restoration history for him. When he declined, saying, “I’m just not interested,” it dawned on me how deathly ill he was.
I watched with interest as we passed by the graves of those who have gone before, wondering where Bob’s body would
be laid to rest. On we drove, past the grave of L.L. Pinkerton, who introduced the melodeon into the worship of the church at Midway, Kentucky (ironically, not far from the monument for Robert J. Breckinridge, a Presbyterian who wrote a book opposing the use of the instrument in that denomination). Still further we drove, past the grave of Henry Halley, compiler of the widely-circulated Bible Handbook.
Careful study and exposition of the Bible became the hallmark of Bob Crawley’s preaching. Always able to maintain a calm demeanor even when others were visibly disturbed, Bob’s exposition of the Word was clear, direct, and logical.
How fitting it was, then, that the procession should stop between the graves of Isaiah Boone Grubbs and Robert Milligan. As we bore the casket to the place designated, contrasts and similarities filled my mind. Though Bob was every bit the equal of those two, he was perhaps not as widely known, for the simple reason that he was not a “writing” preacher, and they were. Their books, Exegetical Analysis and Scheme of Redemption, among others, live on nearly a century after their departure. Unfortunately for those of us who remain, it was impossible to convince Bob (though several of us tried) that he should write down the results of some of his careful investigations of the Scripture so that others who could not hear him in person might profit from them.
But that does not make his worth any less in the sight of those who knew him, nor, we trust, in the eyes of Jehovah. Bob had come to Lexington in 1962, after 6 1/2 years at Belview Heights in Birmingham, and spent nearly a quarter of a century with the University Heights church. While many other churches were spending the Lord’s money moving preachers from place to place every few years, University Heights enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with an outstanding student and expositor of the Word of God. During the time Bob was in Lexington, new churches were formed in nearly every county adjacent to Lexington/Fayette County.
Even though beset with leukemia, he attempted to preach as his strength would allow – in fact, he was active in teaching up to the very end. He had been teaching a home study each Tuesday in January and February, and preached at Nicholasville, KY, on February 23. He was able to attend several services during Bob Owen’s meeting at Nicholasville March 2-7, and attended the morning services on March 9. Experiencing increased pain, he was taken to the hospital and died Monday morning, March 10.
Ably conducted by James Hahn and Julian Snell, the simple grave side service was appropriate for one who did not stand on ceremony. Though many friends were present, having some from as far as Canada and Florida, there were many more prevented by time, distance, and circumstance from attending. As is the case in battle, upon hearing of the death of a fellow soldier, one can often simply murmur a prayer, pausing only later to reflect on past days, and mutual ventures undertaken together.
Bob Crawley is survived by his wife, Leta; 2 sons, Bruce and Bryan; a daughter, Laura (all of Lexington); and by his father, A. Bruce Crawley of Birmingham, AL. Thanks to the generosity of fellow Christians across the nation, Bob’s medical and funeral expenses have been taken care of, and Leta does not presently face any pressing need, though her future is uncertain at the moment. Her address is 734 Seattle Drive, Lexington, KY 40503. I am sure she would appreciate hearing from fellow Christians.
We do not want to “think of men above that which is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6), nor enlarge our brother in death beyond what he was in life. Like many other preachers buried in Lexington and elsewhere, Bob was not perfect a fact he freely acknowledged. But he was an exceptional person in many ways. Like others who knew him, I shall miss him greatly.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 8, pp. 233, 243
April 17, 1986