Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

No matter what she faced in the century Dorothy Rose Crawford has been alive, she approached every situation the same, with the mindset that  “you just have to keep on, keeping on.” A life’s motto she has repeated and preached up and down the North Carolina landscape, the life and legacy of Dorothy Crawford is one that will likely never be matched by another individual. On Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of people stopped by the Robert C. Carpenter Community Building to celebrate Dorothy Crawford’s 100th birthday. 

“We aren’t here celebrating 100 years of service or all the accomplishments of this woman, which are far too many to name, but instead, we are here to celebrate the person that is Dorothy Crawford because there isn’t another like her in this world,”  said Commissioner Ronnie Beale.

Dot has lived a life of service to not just Macon County, but to the entire state of North Carolina. She has been instrumental in the creation of dozens of organizations and agencies that serve the most vulnerable citizens. From being a founding board member for the Southwestern Child Development Commission, a board on which she continues to serve today, to leading the charge for mental health reform in North Carolina, to serving as the Department of Social Services Director for Macon County DSS to serving on boards and committees for aging adults across North Carolina, if there was a group of people in need of help in North Carolina, Dot was the first one to step up and ignite change. 

Born in 1918 in a small rural community in northwest Alabama, “Dot” Crawford was the daughter of a mail carrier and a former school teacher. After two years of junior college in Nashville, Tenn., Dot received a bachelor’s degree in accounting and psychology from Pepperdine University in California. Wanting to return to the south as a social worker, she received a certificate in 1941 after one year at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she met her future husband, John Crawford, who was studying accounting. 

After a short stint working as a social worker for Davidson County and in Lauderdale County, Ala., where she grew up, Dot moved to Texas, where her husband was stationed at an Air Force base and where they were married in March 1942.

After World War II, the couple moved to Franklin, John Crawford’s hometown, where he got a job as a postal carrier and Dot got a job, on Feb. 15, 1952, as a social worker for the county. She was named director of the county department of Social Services in 1959 and retired June 30, 1984, six months after her husband retired.

During her 25 year career as the director of Social Services for Macon County, Dot was instrumental in starting the careers of dozens of men and women who came after her, guiding them and mentoring them in their careers. Her colleagues and friends shared stories during her birthday celebration of how if it wasn’t for Dot, they wouldn’t have gone to college, or how they wouldn’t have pursued the career they have spent a lifetime in. 

Even after a 25 year career as the director, Dot’s real work didn’t begin until retirement. Formed in 1992, the Macon County Community Foundation has awarded a nearly $1 million in grants and scholarships to the local area. One of the Foundation’s first funds was a scholarship endowment Dot created at Franklin Church of Christ-McCollum Drive with funds from her father’s estate. Dot also created the Macon County Unit 108 American Legion Auxiliary Scholarship. 

In addition to her former service on the board of directors of the Macon County Community Foundation, including a stint as chair, she has served as Franklin’s representative to the Affordable Housing Group in Charlotte and as a delegate to the North Carolina Senior Tar Heel Legislature, which she previously served as speaker. Dot was one of the founding members of the Smoky Mountain LME/MCO, now Vaya Health, which provides aid for mental health patients, substance abuse services and intellectual/developmental disability services to the 23 western counties in the state. Dot remains active with Vaya Health and routinely travels to Raleigh on the organization’s behalf continuing to advocate for better services in Macon County and across North Carolina. Dot served a member of the Commission on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services

Dot is considered a trailblazer in that she was a woman who publicly advocated for others in a society that, in her younger years, was overwhelmingly male-dominated. She dedicated herself to helping local residents improve their lives, particularly the most vulnerable individuals who needed the most assistance. She pushed for better services for the aging. She helped establish the county’s first adult daycare center, in-home service program, nursing home and a Senior Aide program. One of her most innovative accomplishments, was introducing a behavioral health component to Macon County’s Meals on Wheels program. Under Dorothy’s guidance, program volunteers were trained to look for signs of mental health or substance use issues among these older adults and to report any concerns.

Dot continues to serve on numerous advisory boards and committees in her local community and with the Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging. She has been an advocate for over 30 years for residents in adult care homes and nursing homes by serving on her county community advisory committee. She has also served as a volunteer counselor for the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) for 30 years. In 2012, she received the Jim Long Award from the NC Department of Insurance for her outstanding work as a SHIIP volunteer and advocate for the program. In 2012, the local senior center in Macon County was named after Dot and John, her husband of 74 years, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 97.

Dot has been a member of the Senior Tar Heel Legislature since its inception in 1993. She was the speaker of this body, the top position in 2002-2003, and continues to chair important committees for this group. She served on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging under two governors and she represented North Carolina at two White House Conferences on Aging. Her participation in state level committees has resulted in her making the 300-plus mile trip from her home in Franklin to Raleigh numerous times a month.

When being interviewed for her award as the 2014 Chamber Member of the year, an honor she shared with her husband, Dot was called “one of the few private citizens in the state who can get the governor to answer her telephone calls.” Her devotion to serving others was never motivated by a desire for recognition or accolades. Rather, she knew it was the right thing to do.

Adding to her endless list of accomplishments, Commissioners Ronnie Beale and Gary Shields presented Dot Crawford with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine on Tuesday, the highest civilian honor anyone in North Carolina can receive. 

“I can’t thank you all enough for this and for being here today,” Dot said. “But you all keep talking about what I have done, but you should be thanking yourselves, because it’s you all who have done these things. You all have spent your careers doing these things too. Now, more important than ever, we have to work together, work cooperatively together to keep making a difference. Working together is the only way we are going to be able to get what needs to be done, done. We have to keep on, keeping on.” 

Dot Crawford is a visionary and a treasure not just to Macon County, but to the entire Tarheel State. She has lived a life truly dedicated to others and continues to have a never-ending, lasting impact on everything she gives her time to. Happy Birthday, Dot!