Steven Isaac Crawford, sexton and ‘guardian angel’ of Battell Chapel
Steven Isaac Crawford, for over 30 years the indispensable sexton at Battell Chapel, died on Sept. 25. He was 62.
Crawford was one of the people working behind the scenes who make the university run, always there to help anyone using the chapel for any event. For more than three decades he assisted church services of every kind, including weddings, funerals, memorial services, concerts, and events for hundreds of students, faculty, and alumni.
“Whether it was life cycle events, religious rituals, celebratory or sorrowful, or other institutional milestones, Steve bore witness to and offered deep care about all of it,” said Sharon Kugler, chaplain of the university from 2007 to 2023.
As the omnipresent sexton at Battell, Crawford was the calming presence who could figure out a solution to any problem. Did the piano need moving? He would do it. Did you need more chairs for the chamber music? He could find them. Did the cross need to come up or down? He could take care of that. Did you forget to provide water for the speakers? Did you need to find an outlet plug for your laptop? Was there a problem in a bathroom? Did the door need to be opened for the florist? Did you need help carrying things in or out? Crawford could, and would, with kindness and grace, do it all.
In a sense, he was part of what is sometimes called a “blue line” – people who have a family tradition at Yale. In his case, Crawford was the son of Isaac (Ike) Crawford, who for many years worked doing maintenance for Dwight Hall and the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale. Ike served as the in-house philosopher at the cultural center and was loved by the students, for whom he always had a kind and encouraging word. His son continued this family tradition.
Pastor Ian Oliver, the current pastor of the University Church, was the officiant at the funeral for Crawford at Battell on Oct. 6, at which both Frederick (Jerry) Streets, who was university chaplain from 1992 to 2007, and former University Chaplain Kugler spoke. Maytal Saltiel, the interim university chaplain, Omer Bajwa, director of Muslim life for the Yale chaplain’s office, and Debra Rohr, the office’s longtime buildings operations coordinator, were also in attendance to remember and celebrate Crawford. Also there was Karl Peterson, an AV technician for Media Technology Services, who often worked Battell events when Crawford was present.
The service included reminiscences by family and friends, and an original poem by Crawford’s granddaughter. Chaplain Streets offered prayers, scripture, and remarks, noting that Crawford “extended a true sense of hospitality to all he encountered” and “contributed significantly to making Yale an inviting institution.”
During a recent memorial service for former Yale President Howard Lamar, friends say that Crawford was in full flourish. He helped celebrants with physical challenges make their way up the Elm Street stairs to the chapel, found a white sheet to cover boxes of prayer books from another upcoming service in order to make the entryway look neater, and, in the pouring rain, went back and forth to a car, carrying in and out programs and flowers. He was, as he always was, dedicated, willing, and helpful. It is hard to see how anyone using Battell will get on without him.
Steve Crawford leaves behind his daughter, Shayla Crawford Ross; son-in-law Stephen J. Ross; a “bonus” son, Shemone G.P. Gordon; a granddaughter, Payton Madilyn Ross; and many cousins, colleagues, and friends.
Former Chaplain Kugler spoke for all when she said, “He truly was our guardian angel, and it cannot be overstated how much he will be missed by all of us in this sacred space and well, well, beyond.”