Many people's lives were shaped by the influence of Cliff Crase.
Sometimes, it seems events occur at a time and place so a journalist is destined to write about them. In the early 1970s, I’d been invited to Cliff and Nancy Crase’s townhouse in Phoenix after attending an April Arizona Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Board of Directors meeting.
I’d known Cliff for several years and we’d become close friends. It was the first time I saw the numerous national and international sports awards he had received.
As time passed, our friendship grew closer and a week rarely went by that either Cliff or I didn’t call one another. One of the lowest days of my life was years later when Cliff told me doctors at the San Diego Spinal Cord Injury Center thought he had pancreatic cancer. A later biopsy confirmed the prognosis was accurate.
Although the confirmation was accurate, they couldn’t tell him how long he would live. One ray of hope was a call telling Cliff his doctor was putting him in a test program for a serum that normally wasn’t used for pancreatic cancer, but had been successful against other cancers. That last ray vanished when the doctors informed him the test serum had failed.
As Cliff’s condition deteriorated, he wanted to make one final trip to his boyhood home in Michigan. Cliff and his family were already in Michigan as the delegates to the PVA National Convention gathered in St. Louis. As the meeting progressed, the conventioneers received news nobody wanted to hear.
Cliff didn’t make it. It was my privilege to give the eulogy at his memorial service in Phoenix. It was also my privilege, at his request, to follow him as editor of two great magazines and do some of the things to them we’d talked about.
Each year as we approach convention time, I think about Cliff and the outstanding man he was. Most people who knew him or knew the sports records he established, especially in swimming, recall the name he gave to wheelchair sports. While I do remember Cliff for the awards he received, the thing I’ll remember most was his skill as a sports journalist.
As I assumed the role of editor, I had to go through all the correspondence that Nancy, Cliff’s wife, had not looked at, considered personal and taken. It was remarkable the number of letters and notes complimenting Cliff on a story he wrote about a specific sporting event.
Many of them commented on how closely his stories resembled a television or radio game announcer. It’s a great compliment when someone notes how an article brings the story to life in the imagination.
Because Cliff had been such a success at being a real jock, he knew how to write so it sounded like you were really there. That takes a skill that has to be developed and Cliff had honed it to the finest degree. Being able to reach that ultimate point takes a lifetime of living and playing disabled sports. Cliff had spent a lifetime doing both.
Anyone who has been in the publishing business knows it takes two to three months to put out an issue. That’s why in July I’m writing a testament to a man I admired and considered my best friend in PVA and you’re reading it in September. Cliff would understand, smile, and figure I was finally learning a little about what I was doing. Believe me, it takes a lot of planning ahead to make all the pieces work out.
I began this editorial with the statement “Sometimes, it seems events occur at a time and place so a journalist is destined to write about them.” For me to have known at Cliff’s townhouse, that we would become best friends, that he would die of pancreatic cancer, that I would be giving my best friend’s eulogy would be furthest from my mind.
That I would take over as editor, means you had confidence in me, Cliff.
I’m not the journalist you were, but I’m working hard at it, my friend. While I doubt anyone will ever write a memorandum about me that speaks as highly as I think of you, I think I’ve accomplished some of our objectives and created a better publication than I inherited.
Partly because of technology and partly because of the fine people who work here. I think you would like it.
It’s a blend of both our hopes and desires. God bless you, my friend.
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