The year was 1969. I was hidden with fellow duck hunters in a thicket of cane beside a flooded field on the Candies Creek Wildlife Management Area in Bradley County. I caught movement in the corner of my eye and turned to see a bear of a man, in a distinguished green and beige uniform, step from the treeline just a few yards away.
That was the first time I ever laid eyes on game warden Tom Crawley. It wasn’t however, the last time. It seemed to me that Crawley could and would often appear like a mirage whenever we were hunting in his territory. In every case he was pleasant and cordial.
Of course me and my friends were always legal. The word in Bradley County, or actually all of Southeast Tennessee, was that if you didn’t do things right, Tom Crawley wasn’t quite as nice.
My experiences meeting a real-life game warden — a very good one — led me to become a game warden in my first career.
There are however, several people who actually owe Crawley much more. They owe him their lives.
Matt Majors, former Hamilton County game warden and current Boating Investigator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, has written an article for the upcoming issue of the Tennessee Game Warden, the official publication of the Tennessee Wildlife Officer Association. Majors shared this excerpt with RheaReview.com:
As [Crawley] drove by the lake, he could tell a boat out on the water was overloaded. Maybe it was the intuition that a good game warden has, or the experience that can only come with time. Regardless, Crawley made a U-Turn on that cold winter day and went back.
As the boat came into view again, he realized the worst had happened. All the men were in the water. He ran down to a nearby campsite and an unattended boat. Thankfully the boat started on the first crank. Crawley was able to go out, rescue all 5 men in this boat and bring them back to shore.
There was never any publicity on this incident back in 1971, but heroic action was taken that day. No doubt those five men have a very different view of TWRA officers. Throughout the years, Crawley takes pride in the fact that he has called the men every so often through the years to check on them. Some men have since past away or lost touch, but Tom’s recollection of the incident and kinship with the men has not.
As I sat beside Tom, he told this story in its entirety with a great big smile on his face. I could only understand this to be a man who had an outstanding career and was proud of what he accomplished over the years. No doubt some of his actions were due to his training, but as I spent more time with him, it was clear that much of his career was driven by the kind of man he was. Some folks retire from their jobs with a sour attitude. Not Tom, he didn’t have a job — he embarked on a career that left him smiling well into retirement.
Crawley, 86, is long-retired. He wore several “supervisory” hats during his wildlife career, including a stint in TWRA’s Nashville headquarters. But he gave that up to return to the country he loves most, Southeast Tennessee. Nowadays Crawley is probably better known as a peach farmer in North Hamilton County, carrying on a business his father began.
However Majors says drive by the farm and you will see old TWRA uniform shirts hanging in his garden, doubling as a scarecrow and reminding all those who visit that once a game warden, always a game warden.
Click here to learn more about the Tennessee Wildlife Officers Association, including how to subscribe to their magazine, Tennessee Game Warden.