Hudson River fisherman dies at 80
By Brian J. Howard
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: July 21, 2006)
VERPLANCK ? The rare times Thomas Crawford wasn't fishing on the Hudson River, he could often be found staring out the picture window of the Hardie Street home his father built, studying the tides and aching to get back out there.
Crawford, who died Saturday of heart failure at age 80, had many nicknames, the Sturgeon General and King Crabber among them.
But most knew him as Tucker, a legend on the river who plied his craft long after a 1976 ban on commercial fishing for striped bass choked the life out of a centuries-old industry.
"He loved the river," said his son, Thomas Crawford Jr. "He grew up in the Depression. They had no food, so during the winter they cut through the ice and fished to have something to eat."
Relatives and friends crowded Steamboat Dock on Wednesday to watch Crawford's family fulfill his last wish by sprinkling his ashes on the river from the boat "Sole Mate." Longtime friend John Vargo thought to tow Crawford's empty fishing boat behind.
Born Jan. 6, 1926, to John A. and Claire Kall Crawford, he attended school in Verplanck until the sixth grade. Despite his lack of formal education, he was sought out by state environmental officials, Cornell Cooperative Extension and others for his expertise, his family said.
Environmentalist and Hudson River advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. called Crawford a champion of the river and an icon of the commercial fishing industry
"And he was an encyclopedia of knowledge about commercial fishing on the Hudson," Kennedy said yesterday. "He knew more about the Hudson River than any scientist in the state."
An infantryman during World War II, Crawford was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. He operated Tucker's Barber Shop in Verplanck from 1953 until 1974 and was a member of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society, the Verplanck Fire Department and the Hudson River Fisherman's Association, later renamed Riverkeeper.
But nothing he did on land defined him the way fishing did.
"There was such an aura about him when you went out with him and watched what a master he was at what he did," said his grandson, Michael Crawford, 37, whom he raised from the age of 2.
He said his grandfather taught him to appreciate the river and to live life to the fullest.
Crawford, a lifelong Verplanck resident and contemporary of renowned Ossining fisherman Henry Gourdine, who died in 1997, seldom took a vacation or even a sick day, family members said, and never found it too hot or too cold to fish.
He was among a handful of fishermen featured in "The Last Rivermen," a 1992 documentary produced by Riverkeeper and narrated by actor Alec Baldwin about the decline of commercial fishing on the Hudson River.
Besides his son, Crawford is survived by two daughters, Marilyn Rush of Surprise, Ariz., and Deborah Crawford of Verplanck; a son, Abram Crawford of Verplanck; a brother, John "Sparky" Crawford of Fishkill; and two sisters, Adele Matthews and Joan Villetto, both of Cold Spring; seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and dozens of nephews and nieces.
He also leaves behind his river.
"He loved the river," Thomas Crawford said. "The river was his life. You couldn't keep him off it."