Bill Crawford had been a lawyer for about 10 years when a chance to teach came his way. He took it and never looked back.
More than a half-century later, Crawford is still going strong. At 89, he is LSU’s oldest faculty member. He teaches two classes a semester at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center.
“Some day, they’ll come in here and carry me out,” Crawford says.
No one is in a hurry for that to happen.
“He’s a delightful colleague,” says Tom Galligan, dean of the law center for almost a year and a faculty member for 12 previous years. “Generations of students have benefited from being in his class and being around him and loved him and love him to this day. He’s got a lot of friends out there.”
A Key West, Florida, native and Ponchatoula High School graduate, Crawford enrolled at LSU after being drafted into the Army during World War II. He didn’t arrive knowing what he wanted to study.
“I was doing real well in English, so I thought of getting a degree in English and seeing where that took me,” Crawford says. “I sat down with my favorite English professor, and he started rattling off the courses I would take, and I said, ‘The hell with that!’ English literature, poetry, everything from the dead world.”
LSU offered a track where students could spend three years in undergraduate studies and the final year in law school. Crawford took that, graduating in 1951, also earning an Air Force ROTC commission and spending two more years in the military. He returned to LSU and completed his law degree in 1955.
He went to work for the New Orleans firm of Chaffe, McCall in 1955 and served as secretary-treasurer of the Louisiana State Bar Association from 1960 to 1962. He became one of the firm’s partners, but was finding law practice a bit of a grind.
“I looked around me at the other lawyers in the firm, and I said to myself, ‘Is this what I want to do?’” Crawford recalls. “Lo and behold, the phone rang, and it’s Dean Hebert from the law school, and I can quote him still to this day: ‘Bill, is there any point in our discussing further whether you want to return to the law school as assistant dean and professor of law.’ I said, ‘Yes, let’s talk!’
“As a very young man, I had thought of going into the ministry. I was very interested in talking about what I was doing. The notion of standing up and delivering the law to students was appealing. Whatever it is that gave you the teaching bug, I had the urge to teach. I still have it. … I go at it with the same interest and energy today that I did the first day.”
Crawford was awarded the James J. Bailey Professorship in Law in 1985 and has been director of the Law Institute since 1978.
“He does still have zip on his fastball,” Galligan says. “If we’re going to use baseball analogies, I think one of the things great pitchers do is they learn to use their other stuff, as well.”
Though he has taught first-year law — which the 1973 move “The Paper Chase” memorably depicted — Crawford’s current course work involves teaching legal procedure, torts and security devices, such as lending, mortgages and liens. He says his testing style is designed to make students get to the point by asking questions and allowing only three to five lines of response.
“I tell the class 15 times: Answer the question. Answer the question,” he says. “It works. The good students make good grades, and the poor students don’t.”
Those students, good and poor, can look forward to Crawford in the future. He has signed up to teach next year and hopes to continue beyond that.
“I don’t know what I would do if I retired,” he says. “I don’t know what I would do.”