He was one of a kind. A mover and a shaker, a dedicated volunteer and public servant with the ability to get things done, a family man and friend of young athletes, and most of all, a really nice guy that all of us are going to miss. We lost former Park Authority Board member Fred Crabtree on Sunday, March 11. At age 96 he left the game and is now remembered fondly as “Mr. Baseball.”
He left behind a legacy of love and accomplishment. He was the loving husband of the late Ann Ruth Crabtree and father of Joyce Cockrille and Frederick “Rick” Crabtree, Jr. He is also survived by his two sisters, Gaynell and Joan and six grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren. Those were his immediate family members, but beyond these individuals were hundreds of colleagues and admirers on boards and commissions, in youth athletics and on the fields of Fairfax County.
Fred loved baseball. He spent much of his adult life in Vienna, Virginia, working closely with Little League teams and ensuring that the kids had someplace nice to play. He was a volunteer with Vienna Little League for more than 50 years. In a 2012 interview with the Fairfax Times, Fred recalled that he learned the value of baseball during World War II. As he tells it, when stationed in Okinawa, Japan, he helped build a diamond for fellow soldiers to enjoy. Each day he would set it up, and each night the Japanese would bomb it. “Every night, they would drop a string of bombs right on the damn field,” said Crabtree with a laugh.
Bill Cervernak, chairman of the Vienna Little League, added in that article, “God knows how many kids he has reached out to and made a difference to, either directly or indirectly. He’s been a manager, a coach, umpire and administrator. He has been involved in every aspect of baseball you can think of.”
Fred’s ability to reach out to others found form in programs for children with disabilities as well. He started the Challenger program for those with disabilities. That program expanded nationwide. He also created accessible basketball and softball programs in the mid-1990s and seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for doing the right thing and making the lives of those he touched that much better. As a result, he received honors and accolades from President Bush, local officials, organizations and towns as well. He was honored by the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials for his work as an outstanding public official in 1993. Honors kept coming over 40 years.
In July 2006, the Park Authority Board unanimously broke its own naming policy to rename Fox Mill District Park in his honor. Generally, that is an honor bestowed posthumously. The Reston park is now Fred Crabtree Park and in a letter to Mr. Crabtree at the time, then Park Board Chairman Harold Strickland wrote, “On behalf of the FCPA and the citizens of Fairfax County, I want to thank you for a lifetime of service and providing the ultimate example of what one person can accomplish through their unselfish commitment to the community and their fellow citizens.”
Fred was pleased, stating at the time, “It makes me so happy, it really does. You feel like you accomplished something and I know that I have.” It was a well-deserved honor.
Fred was so generous with his time. He served with distinction on the Park Authority Board from 1969 to 1992, including service as the chairman from 1977 to 1978. At various times he also served as vice chairman and secretary/treasurer.
He was visionary and understood how important land acquisition was to a growing community. He was instrumental in the acquisition of Fox Mill District Park, Peterson Lane Park, Nottoway Park, Frying Pan Farm Park, Clarks Crossing Park, the Floris School Site, Baron Cameron Park, Lahey Lost Valley Park, Lake Fairfax Park and numerous others. He served on the Founders, Benefactors, Supervisors and Friends of Frying Pan Park, Inc for more than 40 years.
He made it his mission to acquire parkland. Years after he left the Park Authority he recalled one donation of 21 acres from a friend he knew. He remembered regularly meeting with her, cutting her grass and speaking to her over meals about this contribution. She donated the land and an historic home in 2000. Crabtree ascribed to the notion that “It’s just knowing someone. I got several pieces of property from knowing people.”
Two iconic former members of the Park Authority Board who recently passed also had kind words to offer about Fred in published reports. John Mastenbrook for whom a matching grant program is named said of Fred, “Fred always maintained close contact with people in the community. He brings to every endeavor energy and enthusiasm.” The late Gilbert McCutcheon, who represented the Mount Vernon District and was a friend of Fred’s for over 30 years, said, in 2004 “Fred’s a wonderful person. He’s always thinking about what he could do for someone else.”
Former Park Authority Director Mike Kane said, “Fred was the epitome of what a citizen board member is. He redefined what public service is. Fred was the Park Authority. While his heart was in athletics, in particular little league baseball, Fred promoted the full mission of the Park Authority 100 percent of the time. He knew the value of what parks bring to a community and he fought long and hard to protect parks.”
Kane continued, “One event in Fred’s career as a Park Authority board member was when he and John Mastenbrook charmed and swooned Mrs. Lahey to leave her property to the Park Authority in her will to insure that it would be protected from development forever. And to hear Fred tell the story, or any story for that matter, just made you laugh and smile. His presence in the community was large too. Well respected and revered. I will miss Fred, but I am so thankful for all his work for the parks and people of this county.”
Former Park Authority Deputy Director Tim White, a close friend of Crabtree over the years commented, “The number of young lives that he touched and his contributions to the citizens of Fairfax County are immeasurable. He lives on through his accomplishments, the good that he did and the way that he lived his life.”
One of his lasting legacies was the creation of the Elly Doyle Park Service Award which recognizes an individual’s or group’s contribution of service to the Park Authority. Dozens of volunteers have been honored through the years for their work on behalf of local parks and those who enjoy them.
Fred was one of those rare individuals that just made the world a better place. He had a smile and an opinion. He made seemingly impossible feats look easy. He cultivated his friendships and gave back way more than anyone could give to him. He was a believer in the effect that sports and parks can have on encouraging children to stay away from trouble and lead positive lives. I am grateful to have known him.
A memorial service will be held on March 25 at 3 p.m. at Bruen Chapel Methodist Church, located at 3035 Cedar Lane in Fairfax. Contributions may be made to Vienna Little League or Bruen Chapel Methodist Church.
Written by William Bouie, Chairman, Fairfax County Park Authority Board