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Walter C. Crawford Jr.

Home > Interviews > Walter Crawford


A Conversation With
Walter Crawford
Founder and Director,
World Bird Sanctuary

 

Walter Crawford spent his boyhood years in Venezuela, where his father worked as an engineer for a petroleum company. The exotic birds in the jungles of South America captured the young Walter Crawfordboy's attention. His interest would eventually lead him to his life's work: the propagation, rescue, rehabilitation and preservation of exotic birds and birds of prey. With the support of Marlin Perkins, Walter Crawford founded the World Bird Sanctuary in 1977. His work will be furthered with the creation of the World Environmental Center. Under his direction, the Center will combine education, rescue, rehabilitation and research.

Walter Crawford was a featured speaker at Conference '98. He spoke on the design and construction of a wildlife centre. Always charming, informative and amusing, Walter held his audience in the palm of his hand. After his presentation, he agreed to speak with us and there followed a lively discussion that touched on the many frustrations he and others face today when attempting to create a new centre. Through the course of our conversation, we were treated to a glimpse of the other side of Walter Crawford.

 


 online: You grew up in Venezuela. Can you tell us a little about your childhood and how it led to your passion for birds?

Walter:  Well, it was after the war. My father was an engineer, and after he got out of the service we moved from Missouri to Albany to the company headquarters. From there, we went to Venezuela. He was part of an oil exploration team for a petroleum company. During this time his job was mainly just to go around the country and look for potential sites where they could explore for wells… for possible oil reserves. We traveled mostly by water and plane because there weren't a lot of roads in those days; because of that, we lived primarily out in the jungle in small homes. Wherever we moved, they built a camp and we'd stay there for whatever period of time we needed to stay. Then, we'd move on. We spent a lot of time with the native Venezuelan kids out in the jungles and on the rivers. Mostly, we spent a lot of our time with wildlife and not necessarily with people. We only got to Caracas once or twice in the whole time that we were there.

I've got a picture of the night my father shot a jaguar that had jumped into the house; it wanted to kill the dog. He shot it in the living room. We had snakes in the house - some we wanted and some we didn't. There were a lot of critters like that. As a child I was imprinted on that type of behavior; that was what you were supposed to expect from life. Consequently, my mother always blamed my father for me never really getting a job!

Eventually, we came back to the United States and settled in my mother's home town of Ste. Genevieve, which is a very small town about sixty miles south of St. Louis. It's the first settlement west of the Mississippi. It's an old historic town, but it's very small. Of course there, you could have any creatures you wanted, even in the middle of town; nobody said much. My mother's family had been there for generations. The town hasn't changed from what it was then, basically. It's still the same population as when I grew up… about forty-five hundred people. We now actually operate a Center down there! It's funded by a mining company. Now, in the school that I went to as well as all the other schools in the area, we do environmental outreach programs.

online: So you've been all over the world, but you've never really got away from home?

Walter:  (laughing) Yeah, I've been all over the world. About the only place I've never been is Antarctica, and I plan on going there sometime soon. I guess in my early childhood, just being exposed to animals made them a very vital part of my life.

online:  You have earned several degrees. Did you pursue them with a career in mind, or was your education on a different track altogether?

Walter: Well, my undergraduate degree was actually in agriculture and biology, because I felt that I needed to learn more about man's use of the environment and because I already had experience in all those other things. I put agriculture with biology for my Bachelors' degree. For my Masters', it was animal physiology and biochemistry.

online:  Would you say that you expressly headed yourself towards animal-related work?

Walter:  Yes, it was an animal-related field. Actually, I moved to St. Louis to work on my Ph.D. and I was going to school at St. Louis University and working at the St. Louis Zoo at the same time. I reached a point in my education where it was required that I attend school full-time. At that time I was married and I had a son; I had to make money and couldn't afford to quit work, so I just stayed at the zoo and didn't finish my degree.

online:  Did you meet Marlin Perkins while you were working at the zoo?

Walter: Yes, I met him at the zoo. I was just working one day and he came by and started talking to me. He was a very personable guy. For some reason, out of all the people that worked in that department, he liked me. He'd always come down and find me wherever I was working, and we'd talk. He told me he and his wife were starting up a wolf sanctuary: " The Wild Canid Survival and Research Center". He took me out to show me the wolves, and I met the Director of the Research Center, who then offered me the space to bring all my birds out. At that time, my birds were at my house, which was kind of a problem. The neighbors were relatively understanding, but still, in those situations it's not a good thing.

That's how I kind of got started. Marlin was on our Board of Directors for a long time; in fact, his wife and I still have lunch together four or five times a year and I see her quite a bit. He was a focal point, because he always said that education was a big thing: you had to talk to the kids. That's how I met him, and he stuck with me until he died.

online: Was that the beginning of the World Bird Sanctuary?

Walter:  Yes. At that time there was myself and my son - who was four. We had about five birds when we started out there. Of course now we've got a tremendously large staff and hundreds of birds and other animals, but Marlin's the one that helped me get the thing rolling out there.

online:  As the head of your organization, you deal with a lot of different areas. There's education, rehabilitation, captive breeding, habitat restoration and conservation. If you had to choose one of those areas, which would you think is most important?

Walter:  Education.

online:  Is education an important focus right now?

Walter:  Yes. With rehabilitation, we do this as a way to offset the damage humans have done, our ignorance and our arrogance. When we look at what has an impact, it has to be education. You can't solve the problem until you get to the root of it. The root of it is ignorance, and you have to get to the kids. That's why we talk to two million-plus people yearly, trying to get the message out. Get to the root. We can't change Bubba's attitude, but we can change Bubba's kid's or his grandkid's attitude, which will then change Bubba's attitude. That's the purpose of it, to let it filter down.

online:  Your primary focus at the moment is the new Center. Can you tell us about it?

Walter:  Yes, we're building a new "World Environmental Education Center". We have seven Centers right now, and we're trying to consolidate them. It makes it easier for me and for my staff. This is a one hundred and thirty-acre facility that will eventually have fourteen buildings and be a focal point for education. The whole thing is focussed around education. Everything is being built with that in mind… to reach out, get people involved and get kids involved. Right now our ability to put on programs for people is limited because we don't have a lot of space or classrooms. That's what we're building.

online:  In the midst of building a new Center and all the problems that I know you've had to face, do you have any advice for others who are considering the same thing on a smaller scale?

Walter:  (laughing) Oh... a lobotomy would probably help! First you get divorced, then give away everything you own, and then you get a lobotomy.

Basically, this has been a nightmare beyond anything I had ever envisioned, and it's mainly because of the bureaucracy we've had to face. With building permits, codes, regulations, restrictions and ADA requirements, it's just been one thing after the other. It appears that a lot of times nobody knows the answer until you pose the question; then, you get some other things thrown at you. It's not as if you can plan around a lot of this stuff. It's been tough. It's been a hard uphill fight. On the whole, my staff has been really supportive… they've hung in there. The funders have been pretty good, but there aren't as many as we need now. The trade unions, the construction trades and all twenty-seven unions have been very supportive. They've donated labor, people, equipment, time, effort and expertise, which had been unheard of up to this point.

I would say that if a person were going to consider this, they should set out a strict "Mission Statement". We laid one out before we started and it stated what we wanted to do and what we wanted to accomplish. We set it up in steps, and we'll be ready to open this coming year with the first five of ten steps finished.

online:  So a Strategic Plan is important?

Walter:  I think it's essential… and don't count on anybody giving you anything for nothing. Get people involved! I guess the reason we want the people to get involved is because we feel that if they get involved there will be pride of ownership, which will help them get more involved in conservation and make them part of the times. Instead of them giving you a whole bunch of money to do it… which would be nice… instead, they come in and do a whole bunch of work free. That's helped us a lot, because it's probably decreased our cost fifty to sixty percent in some cases.

online:  Walter, when you gave your presentation you described the building of the World Environmental Education Center which, comparatively speaking, is an enormous center. How about the small rehab groups, who are trying to build a center in the order of one-quarter of a million dollars or less? Do you think these regulations that you spoke of could be a killer for them? Could the regulations be enough to make it impossible?

Walter:  I wouldn't say killer. What I would say is that they have to find someone who can help them walk through the bureaucracy. That's really important, because a lot of it depends on where you are, which state you're in, county, city, local and state regulation. I mean, we had to put an elevator in a building that nobody is ever going to use. That's just one of those things.

online:  Elevators are very expensive. Would that kill a center that's on a $200,000 budget?

Walter: If you have two floors, you're going to have to have an elevator. These are things to consider. If someone offers you a building, have somebody look at that building and see what it's going to cost to bring it up to code. Somebody talked to me recently about a facility that's being offered to them. Sometimes people are trying to get rid of these "red herrings". Now you've got this building where the plumbing's no good or the electrical is no good. It's got to be all ripped up, you've got to put in new stuff… that costs a lot of money! Get someone to help you look at this structure… maybe some inspector who would normally inspect for the city or town, and have them come in and tell you what you're going to need. Figure that in your price.

Sometimes you can rehab a structure cheaper than building a new one; sometimes it's cheaper to build a new one. You've got to look at the land. Is it accessible? If you build this beautiful place, will people be there? We were offered one beautiful place; it even had some houses on it. It was so damned far no one would have driven there! It doesn't do any good to have a beautiful place if no one shows up. What I tell smaller groups is to set your mission. Decide what you want to do. Set your dream, and then set realistic goals. Somewhere in between, you have to find what you need. Get it checked out, and make sure you can get the amount of money that you need, and go on from there.

online: You alluded to something phenomenal a few minutes ago. You talked about two unions who donated their time. Did you just usher in a new era of volunteerism?

Walter: I don't know. For this center, probably fifty to sixty percent will be donated labor. We like to pay for very little. (Laughing) We're known for that, so they kind of run from us when they see us coming. There are some things you have to pay for, like when you get to a certain area where maybe only one or two people do this particular process and they've got you pretty much where they want you. You either pay them or they won't do it. You do see a lot of that, and it's somewhat of a problem.

I've seen a tremendous decrease in volunteers. A lot of people were talking about that at the conference. You don't see a new echelon of people starting here. It's all the mid-level and the old-timers. Who in the hell's going to carry the ball when we're too old to hike it? I mean, it's going to be something which worries us a bit. The next generation is not willing to sell their souls to the devil to do this, you know… like we were.

online: That means, then, that we're not seeing a new era of volunteerism; we're seeing fast-talking Walter Crawford in action!

Walter:  (laughing) Well... what I'm selling is snowballs to Eskimos. You have to get in there and convince them. I think a lot of times unions were given a bad rap but I think they've done a lot they never got credit for. Like anything else, there are good and bad people on both sides of the fence. The guys we have talked with so far have all been very supportive. They understand where we're coming from. Unfortunately, or fortunately, however you want to look at it, they're busy. In the mid-west right now, you can't get a carpenter and you can't get a plumber. When we first went to them, they weren't working; they were worried about asking their guys to do something when they weren't getting paid to do other stuff. Now, it's the opposite. They've got so many people working that it's hard for them to pull people, but they still do it. They've been really cooperative up to a point, and hopefully they'll continue to be so. If they are, we should be able to move forward and we shouldn't have a lot of problems. Then we'll get it done.

online: You said that not as many younger people are coming into the field?

Walter:  They're not. It's there; we see it.

online: Given that, what do you think the future holds for rehabilitation?

Walter: That's the question somebody asked at the conference. I don't know. It's scary in some respects. We've finally got this down to a science where we can accomplish repairing an injury and getting the bird or any animal back into the wild. On the flip side, if nobody's there to use it… The monetary interests of a lot of these young kids… well, it's not for this field.

online:  Do you think this generation is self-absorbed?

Walter:  Oh, I think so. I think we've made them that way by giving them everything they see. In reality, it might sound nice to say you live in an old cabin out in the boonies and that you do what you want to do… that's great, but my son looks at me and says "But Dad, this guy at McDonalds, the Manager, makes more than you. He's got money in the bank and you don't." That's true.

online:  I guess they have to learn that there's a whole lot more to life than cash.

Walter CrawfordWalter:  Well you know... (laughing) I came into life bald, naked, screaming and broke, and probably that's the way I'm going out. I figure God put me here to accomplish something. When I got out of Vietnam, I had seen what destructive force humans had. We can kill each other without any thought. I knew I had to do something better with my life. That kind of cemented my decision about what I was going to do, and I stuck to it from day one. Some of my senior staff is like that; they're good people. They've given up everything to do this. The new people coming in… the trainees, the new "lower" echelon of people, don't have it. The first thing they want to know is "when's my day off, how much do I get, do I get a wage?" Days off! It was unheard of when a lot of us started out twenty-five or thirty years ago.

I don't know what's going to happen. I couldn't answer that person at the conference. It's scary. We're putting more and more demands on wildlife as we increase our human population and shrink their habitat, but there's going to be less and less people doing this work. I don't know. I really can't give you the answer except to say that it worries me.

online: A lighter question: what's the worst mistake... Ed Clark asked me to ask you this (laughing)... what's the worst mistake you've ever made and what did you learn from it?

Walter: (laughing) I guess meeting Ed Clark! I don't know if I've ever had a "worst" mistake. In my personal life, I've done some dumb things. I can honestly say I've never done anything vicious, vindictive or malicious to anybody, but I think a lot of times we assume that we can accomplish a lot more than we can. We get so carried away in our desire to help that we make a decision like... building these new centers. Then, you turn around and say "God, what did I do?" You've made this huge monkey into a whole pack of monkeys that's on your back and you say "Did I do something wrong here... did I make a mistake?" I don't know. I mean, I'm sure Ed thinks the same thing sometimes because he built one, and I think those of us who undertake these things... when we're into it good, we're solidified in there and can't back out... Phew! Was this the right thing to do?

I'm sure when it's done we'll say okay, it was worth it… if we get that far. Some people have gotten halfway through, lost everything and never finished. I don't know. I think perhaps the biggest mistake sometimes is getting so involved, and wanting to get so involved in helping wildlife that we overextend ourselves personally, physically and mentally. I push my staff probably way too hard sometimes and they respond very well. They follow and they do a good job. I think a lot of it is just being realistic, and many of us aren't.

online: But Walter… if you can pull it off!

Walter:  (laughing) Well, it's a lot like the lottery, you know. You buy these tickets, you pull it off… you're a winner. Oh boy, you really did good! I'm not a lucky person, you know. I've never been a lucky person. People say: "You're lucky." I say "The harder I work the better I find my luck is!" There's something to be said for that. The harder you work, the better your luck is.

online:  How has your work changed you as a person? What impact has it had on your life?

Walter:  In my case, I find myself farther and farther removed from the day-to-day contact with the birds. The good thing is that where I live now I walk outside and I've got condors right there in the front yard. I've renewed that contact. I've got to do that. I believe if I'm going to continue I've got to keep that interest level up. When you're behind your desk fundraising or beating on doors, sometimes you lose track of what's going on here. I really haven't had a chance to rehab a bird in years, but I've got good people to do it. I rationalize this to myself by saying: "Well, I'm still rehabbing birds by providing the money to pay the people to do it." That's another way of looking at it. I think it's changed me because of that. I've become more of a bureaucrat, which is very frustrating to me because that's the thing I've least wanted to become. But if by becoming a bureaucrat I can change laws, influence lawmakers and caregivers...

online: At this point in time, perhaps it's the best way to do the work you do.

Walter:  Well, sometimes you've got to kiss a lot of toads before you find a prince, and God knows I've kissed a lot of toads. These princes are coming up fewer and far between, because of the economy, as good as it is. There's not a lot of money going in to the coffers right now for wildlife; it's going into social services. In St. Louis we've got a lot of gambling. I honestly believe that's taken a tremendous toll on the donations that non-profits get because there's X number of dollars of disposable income, and this money is going in to gambling. Even my own aunt, who I never thought would do this… boy, she's a slot machine addict! You go to these riverboats and people are pumping a lot of money in there. That's money that could have gone to the Church, to the Salvation Army or the United Way. It might have gone to the World Bird Sanctuary, for all we know. I think that's what's changed me too, because I have to look at other avenues of securing funding, some of which are no longer there.

 online:  This happens to a lot of people. They get away from what started them out in this field.

Walter: I tell people that you have to plan for that. My goal was to help wildlife. That doesn't necessarily mean that I had to do it... I'd like to... but I've become a realist and realize that I can't. I have my own falconry birds that I interact with, and I've got two dogs, two cats and a parrot. The young lady that I share my life with is an animal person now, and kind of tolerates all my idiosyncrasies and my being gone. She loves animals as much as I do, which helps. I think we all change; I'm getting old and tired, some parts of me don't work as good or as quick as they used to, but we still keep going.

online:  Many of us have seen or know the public Walter Crawford. Is there a private Walter Crawford? Can you give us a little glimpse of him?

Walter:  (laughing) There are a lot of myths and legends, and many of them are true. There's a private me, but very few people know that person and I keep it pretty much to myself. There's one young lady who knows me very well. She just laughs and smiles every time she hears those stories, because she knows that's not really me. You know, I'm a reclusive person, and when I get the opportunity, I prefer to stay at home sitting in front of the fire with a couple of dogs and the cats. That's fine with me. I'm not a party person. I don't drink and I don't smoke. I'm just a very laid-back person. If I had my options, I'd be sitting in the cabin away from everybody, by myself or with whomever. You have to have that other side… but people, for some reason, think I drink. I don't, but I always joke about drinking.

online: You get this way without alcohol?

Walter:  I figure God put me here to have a good time, and I'm sure as hell going to try!

online:  You enjoy being on stage, don't you?

Walter:  I enjoy people. The group of people at the conference are honest, good people. That's one thing about the wildlife field. Ninety-eight percent of them are honest, down-to-earth, unpretentious people. Comparing that to the general population, it's totally different. These people will be honest with you. They care about nature. They care about preserving the world. I think that's why we can have so much fun at the conferences, because we can let our hair down. After you've raised x-number of babies or worked seventeen days in a row, you come to a meeting and you're ready to have a little bit of fun. I think that's part of it. You know there are two sides of me and one has to be professional and raise money and do the other things. I can put on the three-piece suit and do that nice thing if I have to. I'd prefer to be in my blue jeans down at the cabin if I have a choice.

online:  Walter, what animal do you best relate to?

Walter:  I think raptors, in general. The people who work with them are just like them. I look at the old guys… I'm talking about the guys that I knew thirty or forty years ago… when I look at some of them today, we're all the same. We're kind of gnarled up, and we're kind of an independent group. We're very defensive if you push us into a corner. We're very focused on what we do. You don't want to make us mad. I don't look for fights but you sure don't want to start one with me. It's just that the people who deal with these animals are like that. If you notice the people who do mammals like the possum… they just have infinite patience. Their patience is incredible. I don't have that. I'm ready to go any time… real active. I think people take on the persona of the animals they work with and try to save.

My favorite is the golden eagle. I've got this one bird that I've had forever. I've always loved him. He's just a great bird… very easy-going, but he can be tough if you don't treat him right. I guess he and I are pretty much the same in that respect; we can be your best friend or your worst enemy. You don't want to make us mad! (laughing.)

online: Well it's a good thing that you're the best friend of IWRC!

Walter:  (laughing) Oh, I think IWRC, or an organization like this, is essential. People came to the conference. The papers were great! On the last night, there were some people at the bar. I like to study people as well as animals. I noticed they were talking about different things. A group over there was talking about raccoons and possums, while a group over here was talking about bats. We'd all gone on the bat tour. Then there were the raptor people. A lot of times I've learned a lot more just sitting around listening to these people than I have going to a presentation paper. With the paper, you're confined to a certain amount of space; you're trying to get things done. That's important, the interactions. Another group was talking about non-profits. All the problems you have, with lawyers, the Boards, the IRS and all these new volunteer laws… people don't realize that if you've got volunteers, now they're covered under the Volunteer Protection Act and you've got to have Workman's Comp for them.

online: Ahhh! Don't tell me that!

Walter:  Oh my God, yes! Never, ever have a Center on your own property! It's the biggest mistake you can make. Someone might fall down, and they'll sue the corporation and they'll sue you. Insurance has become absolutely absurd because you have to worry more about paying your insurance than you do about buying food or formula for your small mammals… because of all these government regulations. Like this elevator thing. We wasted so much money on the elevator that we had to give up a trail that we were going to build for the handicapped kids. I mean... you've got to rob Peter to pay Paul, sometimes. Sometimes, when you're up to your ass in alligators it's hard to remember that you're there to drain the swamp.

These meetings are essential. I think the IWRC has turned the corner and is going forward now in the right direction. Like all groups... every one of them is floating back and forth, trying to see where they should go. Some are still floating, but most are focused now.

online:  Where do you think the IWRC needs to go in the next five years?

Walter:  I think they're moving in the right direction. You know it's really hard to satisfy everybody, no matter what you give. If you have papers that are all medical, then the education people bitch, but if you have more education.... I mean, it's really tough. And then, a lot of people want papers that nobody's willing to give 'em. "Well why don't you have fifteen papers on rehabilitating squirrels?" Okay. Who's gonna' give them? You've got to go out and force people to give them, then they don't write them...

I think they're moving in the right direction, because I think we've had a good mix at the conference of almost everything. The hotel was reasonably-priced, the location was good and the host group did a good job. That's a tough job too... who the hell, with everything else they're doing, wants to take on that? The IWRC has done real well. They've got a young Board… there's a new visualization and energy in that Board.

online: (laughing) Joe's on the Board, Walter… I wouldn't say they were such a young Board!

Walter: What I mean is people who are new, with new vigor. That's why I got off the NWRA Board… if I don't get off, somebody young can't get on. I was Vice President for 8 years, one of the founders. (laughing) Unfortunately, there aren't many young people out there who want to take over.

I think the IWRC has done well. These Workshops are good... how to run a 501(c)(3), how to establish one, how to do taxes, how to do insurance… all that stuff. That's important, which is ironic, because twenty-five years ago we never touched that subject at all.

online: That's what many of us come here for.

Walter:  Yeah... I might go sit over there with the people talking rehab, but I'll sure sit over here with the Directors... "OK guys... what's been happening"; "Oh I had a bad employee I couldn't get rid of..."; "Oh God, what happened"; "Well, here's what I did... boom, boom, boom." "Good point..."

Walter Crawford, with Jane Schnelkeronline:   I found myself jealous today of a new rehabber. She's from Ohio, and I got her started; she was so fired up! She's new, and this is all new to her. I remember when I was like that, and I haven't been rehabbing for that many years. Like you say, I get most benefit from talking to other people.

Walter:  The other morning, right at dawn, I was out walking the dogs. It was really a weird morning. You know… the fog was hanging low… I walked past the condors who are used to me. One of the big males who I've known forever came on down and sat in front of me, and about that time, right across the valley, came a Great Horned Owl just soaring across the valley. I looked up and realized that it doesn't get much better. I think that shows that my life is very simple. The only thing I needed for this day was to see that bird soar gently across the valley, and to be there with these birds and this dog. That's my idea of what life is all about. I don't want the Porsche, I don't want the townhouse, I don't want the boat and I don't want the fancy cars. That does not interest me.

But if we can get this next generation going, like you said about that person, get her fired up, keep her fired up... but a lot of times they get fired up and then they go out; a flash in the pan.

It's hard... we didn't have to worry about drugs and all this crap when we were growing up. I spent all my time in the woods. The worst thing my mother had to worry about was getting all the stains and mud and things out of my clothes. She always knew where I was. I was either down in the woods, up the river fishing, in the boat or canoeing or whatever. Oh, she worried about whether I'd die, drown or shoot myself or something...

I used to do a lot of hunting. Now I just hunt with the bird, and I hunt mainly to watch the bird. I don't care if she catches anything. I've had her for 20 years… the longest relationship I've ever had with a female!

online:  (laughing) Is that the Golden Eagle?

Walter: No, this is the old Red-tail named Tips. She's an old imprint that came in when she was a baby, and she was meaner than hell. For some reason, she likes me. All the birds I have, like Tips, and Striker... they love me and they hate everybody else.

online: I've noticed a lot of birds are like that.

Walter:  Yeah, well, if you love me you've gotta be weird to start with. Poor Maggie, I don't know how she puts up with me. She's got all these birds to contend with, plus me and the dogs. But she's a lady who loves wildlife, shares my interest in it, kind of focuses me once in a while in the right direction when I get out there too far in left field...

online:  Left field can be tough.

Walter:  We always try, in our organization, to help new people, because these new kids have a rough time starting out, especially now with all these regulations where you require 501(c)(3) and where you require incorporation.

Sometimes… (pauses).  When I built my house, I put a big porch on the front the whole length of the house. There's a swing, and I sit there and I think about all this stuff and it's frustrating. We're dealing with all these different facets of rehab: the permits, the laws… you have to have five attorneys. That's what we have, five. They handle everything from protecting our name and copyright infringements to the guy that handles the insurance. It's just really turned into a business. People say well, I really don't want to see rehab turn into a business. It's got to! After you go on TV... you get fifteen more animals and no dollars.

When you see this field, and you see the people working in it, you think: "We've got a chance." Keep 'em focused. Thank God we've got Mary and we've got Marge. I don't know how long they can keep up. You know Marge has got a lot of kettles on her fire too, but she still keeps leading the group. She does good. She turned the whole thing around. Marge Gibson does a very good job. I can honestly say that there's nobody in this group that I've met who appears to be negative, which is unusual. They're all a bunch of good people.

 online:  You're a lucky man Walter. You've got pretty much what you want.

Walter:  I am. If somebody asked me what I'd change in my life today, I could honestly say "nothing." There's a very nice lady who supports me and I have good dogs. My grandpa always said if you have a good gun, a good truck, and a good dog, then you've got a good life. You know, I've got an old '52 Dodge pickup that I restored, I've got my guns on the wall which I'd never shoot again and I've got a good dog. If somebody offered me something, I don't know what they could give me that I don't have. Money? Ah! What the hell's money? I'd just have to pay taxes on it! Uncle Sam takes it from you... look at Bill Gates. You can't take it with you. One old guy told me that one time; he was a very wealthy man. He pointed over to the cemetery and said "See that? That man was a millionaire and you know what? He's dead!"


Some people's lives can be summed up with one lofty quotation. Walter Crawford is not such a person. He is a man of simple needs and complex dreams. Walter is best described not by a quotation, but by the fortune in a cookie: "A wise man knows everything. A shrewd man knows everybody." Walter may have had to kiss a lot of toads to make his dreams come true, but he, himself, remains a prince.


 The Interview:

The interview was held at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Fort Worth, on Saturday,  October 17, after Walter's presentation. It was conducted by Jane Schnelker, with a little picture-taking help from Joe MacLeod.   From Jane:

"This was my first interview......... ever! I had offered to help Joe with the interviews, but I had thought more along the lines of lurking in the background, taking photos and interjecting occasional questions. Instead, I found myself thrust into the lead, coming up with the questions and running the show! 

"I have always found Walter Crawford to be intriguing, and from past casual conversations with him I felt that there was another "private" Walter behind that public persona he carries around with him. I wanted other people to get the chance to meet that man.  I was more than a little nervous as I approached this interview, but I needn't have worried! Walter is a wonderful guy to chat with - very honest, straight-forward and down-to-earth. I think I could get used to this interviewing stuff!

"Thank you very much, Walter. Good luck with your very ambitious World Environment Center. There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that it will be exactly the Center you envisioned!"