After the Mass of Christian Burial for former D.C. City Council member H.R. Crawford on Feb. 18, an honor guard of the Metropolitan Police Department carries his casket from St. Francis Xavier Church in Washington.
CS PHOTO BY NICHOLAS LINDSEY After the Mass of Christian Burial for former D.C. City Council member H.R. Crawford on Feb. 18, an honor guard of the Metropolitan Police Department carries his casket from St. Francis Xavier Church in Washington.

H.R. Crawford, a former D.C. City Council member, District real estate developer and property manager, was remembered for his longtime and dedicated service on behalf of the citizens of the nation’s capital, especially those among the city’s most vulnerable residents – homeless veterans.  Crawford died on Feb. 10 at age 78.

“H.R. Crawford’s faith motivated his work in so many ways,” said Father Vincent De Rosa, parochial administrator of St. Francis Xavier Parish, Washington, in his homily during the D.C. leader’s Mass of Christian Burial there on Feb. 18.

From 1980 to 1992, Crawford represented Ward 7 on the Council of the District of Columbia, chairing several committees during his tenure, including the Committee on Human Services. He also served on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments as chairman and president and as a member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Throughout his three terms on the city council, he advanced fair housing initiatives.

Crawford’s efforts to provide safe and affordable housing promoted human dignity, said the priest.  “He did this because he was a son of the Father and a brother of Jesus Christ,” Father De Rosa said.

He said many of Washington, D.C.’s newer citizens do not know the “small village” H.R. Crawford worked so hard to build through a community of friendships and lending a hand to those in need. The beauty of a city’s cultural institutions will not matter, “if we are not brothers and sisters with each other,” said Father De Rosa.

A disabled veteran himself, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1957 to 1965, Crawford also focused many of his efforts on veterans who had been overlooked and needed housing. He founded Access Housing, Inc. to assist homeless veterans. In 1985, he created the Southeast Veterans Service Center and the Chesapeake Veterans House in Southeast Washington, where veterans received safe housing, meals, healthcare and other support services to assist in the transition to civilian life.

Brian Hawkins, director of the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in Washington, D.C., spoke during a memorial service that preceded the funeral Mass. “He was always about helping someone else. He always called to find help for veterans all over the city,” he said.

Among the hundreds of mourners were District Mayor Muriel Bowser, as well as several former mayors of Washington, D.C. including Vincent Gray and Sharon Pratt Kelly, and current and past members of the D.C. City Council.

Also in attendance and a memorial speaker was Dr. I. King Jordan, the former president of Gallaudet University, who met Crawford in the 1960s when they worked together at the Pentagon on the staff of Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mayor Bowser spoke of Crawford’s dedication to making safe and affordable housing accessible throughout his decades of public service and his career as a businessman in the private sector.

“He worked to make the city a better place,” she said. “He was proud to see development across all parts of the city, but challenged us to make sure all Washingtonians could participate in that prosperity by speaking up for the most vulnerable.”  

Born in in 1939 in Winston-Salem, N.C., Crawford grew up in Northeast Washington, attending attended D.C. public schools and graduated from Cardozo High School in 1957.  He attended the District of Columbia Teachers College, Howard University and later graduated from Chicago State University. After his conversion to Catholicism in 1954, he attended Holy Redeemer Parish in Washington, where he later served as a catechist. He was also a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Father Raymond B. Kemp of Georgetown University, a longtime friend of Crawford’s, recalled the former councilman’s decades-earlier strong support of Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle, the archbishop of Washington from 1948 to 1973, and his advocacy for the full integration of every Catholic institution in the Archdiocese of Washington.

“He was a strong Catholic who lived out the Catholic social teaching,” said Father Kemp, adding that in recent years Father David Bava, pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish, Washington, frequently administered the sacraments to Crawford.

“He was so very faithful. I came today because I appreciate all he’s done for me, helping me find a place to live,” said funeral attendee Dora Washington, a tenant in a Crawford-managed property.

In the early 1960s, Crawford began his career as a property manager. In 1973, President Richard Nixon appointed Crawford as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), becoming one of the highest ranking African-Americans to serve in the agency. He served in that role for three years until 1976.  He worked to improve public housing in cities across the country by advancing a revitalizing program that allowed individuals to take control of dilapidated buildings and renovate them with low-interest loans.

Survivors include his wife, Elenora, five children and 21 grandchildren.