‘He was always there’: Community mourns the loss of Stu Crawford

Stu Crawford — a Second World War veteran and a former player for, as well as lifelong supporter of, the Queen’s Gaels hockey team — has died at the age of 100.
Photo via Queen’s University Alumni Association.

Earlier this week, Queen’s University announced that notable alumnus F. Stuart “Stu” Crawford, former Golden Gaels hockey player and Second World War veteran, had passed away at 100 years of age.

The Kingston native had enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war, serving as a bomb aimer. An obituary posted on Queen’s University’s Alumni web page recounted the then 23-year-old Crawford’s harrowing escape while flying over Hamburg, Germany, when he was forced to eject from his plane and walk through a “field of landmines” en route to safety. 

Crawford (wearing #20) alongside his 1947 Golden Gaels teammates. Queen’s University archive photo.

Following the war, Crawford returned to Kingston, where he played for the Queen’s Golden Gaels hockey team from 1947 to 1951. Crawford’s obituary noted a game at the Montreal Forum against Queen’s arch-rival McGill University as one of his career highlights. “There were 8,000 fans there — 8,000 screaming McGill fans,” he told the Queen’s Alumni Review earlier this year. “You can imagine what that was like.”

Once his playing career ended, Crawford remained a strong supporter of Queen’s hockey, eventually becoming one of the most recognized members of the program’s alumni. From 1986 to 1989, the longtime Kingstonian served as the team’s honorary coach. Crawford and fellow Kingston hockey supporter Bill Fitsell also played a key role in establishing the Carr-Harris Cup, an annual regular-season contest between the Queen’s Gaels and the RMC (Royal Military College) Paladins. 

Crawford was an avid athlete off the ice as well, having competed for the KCVI (Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute) rugby team in high school. He remained a dedicated sportsman well into later life, continuing to play pickup hockey even after he turned 80. He was also an avid downhill skier and had only given up that activity within the last 10 years. 

Earlier in 2022, the “oldest living Gaels hockey alumnus” became the subject of a documentary film directed by Queen’s graduate Mike Downie. The film, titled A Century in the Making: The Stu Crawford Story, chronicles Crawford’s journey through the war and his time playing for the Gaels. “Stu Crawford’s life is truly inspiring,” Downie said in an article shared by the Alumni Association prior to the documentary’s premiere. “It’s a story about believing in yourself, finding your team, and then trusting that those friendships will see you through life’s challenges, that sooner or later, we all must face.”

Crawford prepares for an interview alongside documentary director Mike Downie. Photo via Queen’s University Alumni Association.

The documentary marked the first project by Downie’s new studio Courage Films; it had its debut screening last month as part of the Queen’s University Homecoming celebrations. 

This past February, the Queen’s Gaels planned to honour Crawford with a commemorative jersey at the 35th Car-Harris Cup game, but the match was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Crawford received the gift on his 100th birthday, when the team also announced they had renamed their dressing room at the Memorial Centre the “Stu Crawford Team Room.” 

In a statement shared by the Queen’s Gaels on Thursday, Queen’s University Vice-Principal (Advancement) Karen Bertrand said, “We are all saddened by the loss of this incredible alumnus. He lived his life fully, finding joy in giving back to his team and demonstrating the kind of resilience to which we can all aspire.”

Away from the arena, Crawford was a prominent figure in Kingston’s local media scene; he worked at the Kingston Whig-Standard, most notably as circulation manager, until his retirement in 1987. Kingston hockey historian Mark Potter credited Crawford for giving him his first job. “I started delivering newspapers in Portsmouth Village at the age of 10, which would have been around 1970. That was really my first connection with Stu because he was in charge of all the paper carriers. Stu really mentored me; like so many people, that was my first job.” 

(L-R) Crawford stands with Bill Fitsell at the 2019 Carr-Harris Cup Game. The two men were instrumental in establishing the annual contest between Queen’s and RMC. Photo via Mark Potter.

Potter remarked on the lasting bond Crawford fostered between himself and newspaper employees, and he shared a story about running into Crawford at a recent funeral for a former carrier. “Rod Leeder, the former ice maker at the Royal Kingston Curling Club, died in 2018, and Stu Crawford showed up at his funeral. I saw Stu there [and asked], ‘Stu, what are you doing here?’ And Stu said ‘Rod was one of the guys, he was one of my carriers.’ Of course, I knew that, but I’m thinking, ‘This is years 50 later.’ There’s Stu, attending the funeral of a former newspaper carrier from 50 years ago, and I know he did that a lot… That really exemplifies the type of man he was.” 

As for how Crawford’s legacy will be carried on by future generations, Potter praised the Gaels organization for its recognition of him over the years. “Having the dressing room dedicated to him is obviously going to pique the interest of athletes that walk through those doors. In the hockey [world], those things are passed down by the veteran players to the young men who are coming in. I think it’s a story that’s going to be perpetually handed down from one generation of athletes to another.” 

Potter also referenced a quote from Crawford regarding his commitment to volunteerism, which Potter found in a 2012 article written by Patrick Kennedy of the Kingston Whig-Standard. In the article, Crawford opened up publicly for the first time about his experiences in the Second World War. Potter said, “Basically, his quote was, ‘If you say yes more than you say no, you’ll have a meaningful and impactful life.’ If you think about one quote, that really describes Stu because he was a guy who, whenever he was asked to help in any way, shape, or form — whether through the Queen’s hockey program or anything else he was ever involved in — he was always there.” 

A funeral service for Stu Crawford will take place this Friday, Nov. 11, 2022 at 2 p.m. in the chapel at James Reid Funeral Home, located at 1900 John Counter Boulevard. Those who wish to do so are encouraged to make a donation in Crawford’s honour to the University Hospital Kingston Foundation’s Cancer Centre of Eastern Ontario.  

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