I first met Brenda Crawford in 2007. I was helping coach my son's hockey team and attended a "mandatory" fundraising meeting for the Chelmsford Hockey Association. When I walked into the crowded meeting room at the Chelmsford Forum the first thing I noticed was that I was the only man.
The second thing I noticed was Brenda, a member of the CHA Board of Directors, sitting at the head of the table. She turned and smiled and said, "Hi, C'mon in. You must be Scott. Have a seat!" This prevented me from fleeing - Brenda had the ability to make people feel welcome.
She immediately became all business, and I was impressed at how she ran a detailed, organized, efficient, no-nonsense meeting - all about raffle baskets, centerpieces, and getting people involved and excited about CHA. Brenda never did anything half-assed.
I spent the next six years involved with CHA, and in my time I came to learn that some parents choose to get involved with youth hockey for reasons that are self-serving and others because they think they have all the answers. But I have also found that a select few join the ranks because they just want to help. Brenda called these people the "ten percenters" as it seemed like ten percent of the people did all of the work.
Brenda Crawford was one of those people who just wanted to help.
And boy did she help CHA - for six years. The list of contributions, decisions, ideas, and actions put forth by Brenda on behalf of CHA is long:
Organizing and spending entire weekends at the clothing table for Presidents Cup tournaments, manning registration tables for CHA clinic programs, crafting and distributing newsletters, chasing every single player and coach down for roster signatures, disseminating playdown schedules and tracking each team's progress, taking minutes at Board meetings, attending and deciding disciplinary hearings, coordinating scholarship committee selections, selling Christmas trees on frigid evenings, promoting endless and thankless fundraising activities, attending MA Hockey District meetings, organizing and planning the Ice Breaker Social...the list goes on and on.
To quote someone who served with her, "Brenda gave CHA far more than she got."
That's just how Brenda wanted it.
Brenda disliked the spotlight and was uncomfortable being front and center. She was much happier behind the scenes with a house full of CHA clothing and papers, and a CHA drop box on her porch. Brenda did the real work, mucking down low in the corners to dig the puck out. She was tough, did not back down from due process or doing what she thought was right, and always took the time to do things that others did not want to do. Brenda was the ultimate organizer and planner. She was a type-A, detail oriented, rule following stickler who was not afraid to speak up - not to be difficult or to hear herself talk, but to be fair and to speak for those without a voice.
Brenda was also thoughtful and kind. I remember one year the scholarship committee had a difficult time deciding between two very worthy candidates, and after the winner was announced she wrote and gave a personal letter to the other worthy but unlucky individual, thanking her for taking the time to apply, telling her what a great player and person she was, and wished her luck in college. There was no obligation or precedent for Brenda to do that. That was just Brenda being Brenda.
Brenda also was great at recruiting. She set her sights on other parents and coerced, convinced, and under-exaggerated the workload so they would get involved, including two individuals who went on to become president of the Association - Five years after her last Board meeting Brenda's influence on the program continues.
Don't get me wrong - Brenda was not perfect (although her nails always were). She would sneak a cigarette on the sly, and I loved to tease her about the time she accidentally sent an email complaining about a MA Hockey official...to that MA Hockey official. I loved to make her laugh by making fun of the" problem people" in the program because her laugh was such a great one to hear. But she was also not afraid to laugh at herself.
Brenda and I were on the Board together for only two years, but during my own six year stretch she would always check in with me to see how the Association was doing, find out what Board members were causing problems, and most importantly, hear what the health of the organization was. She still cared about CHA long after her daughter had aged out of youth hockey. We also shared stories about our children and families, and kept each other up to date about what was going on in our lives.
But when she sent me an email this past November it was to tell me that she had four cancerous tumors removed from her brain, and to say that to hear from some of the "old gang" at CHA might do her some good. She also was the same old Brenda, taking on this latest challenge with the same humor, dignity, and determination. She lost the battle, but she long ago won the respect of all who knew her.
Hockey is just a word, but it can serve as an introduction - to new people, places, and experiences. I am grateful that hockey introduced me to Brenda Crawford and that I was lucky to be able to call her my friend.