Something to Crowe about
Crowe has ably handled a variety of duties over four decades,
earning a C. Knox Massey Award
the way Asta Crowe grew up, it might have seemed hard to imagine,
even for her, that she would end up staying in one place for
more than 40 years. Or for that matter, with the same employer.
Her father was a diplomat
with the British Foreign Service. Because of him, she got to
see parts of the world most children can only read about. Her
father's father, in fact, had been the head of the British Foreign
Service and had been involved in the work behind the Treaty
of Versailles that ended World War I.
Her father met her mother
in Japan in 1931. Her mother was the daughter of a missionary
physician from the United States who dedicated his life to founding
a hospital in that country.
Given the fact that foreign
diplomats are not usually assigned to Chapel Hill, it may seem
odd that this woman of dual American and British citizenship
would find herself spending the whole of her adult life here.
When she arrived here
in 1961, Crowe was attending a business school in Oxford, England,
and came here only to visit her aunt and uncle. The uncle, she
said, had retired in Chapel Hill after completing his career
with the U.S. State Department.
She ended up meeting and
marrying "a native," she said. And what started out as a rest
stop on her journeys turned into a final destination.
Chapel Hill has been home
now for the past 42 years.
And no place has she been
more at home than at the University, a fact recognized when
Crowe was awarded the 2003 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service
According to colleagues:
"Every unit and program with which she has worked is better
off because of her presence."
"She exudes fairness
... kindness, laughter and a genuine love of humanity," said
"She is the warmest,
smartest, kindest, most conscientious and most professional
staff member I have ever worked with," said another.
All of this praise has
made Crowe painfully uncomfortable, of course.
She is not a diplomat,
but there is something to be said for keeping your work behind
the scenes, even for people who aren't.
She began working at the
University about the time she got married. Given her business
skills, she landed a job running a small department right away.
Over the years, she has
built on those skills with various business courses and management
training sessions she has completed.
Crowe worked as a research
assistant in the Department of City and Regional Planning. She
served as assistant managing editor for the "Journal of the
American Planning Association" under professors Raymond Burby
and Ed Kaiser.
Her movement from job
to job was not a career path deliberately charted. She never
knew where she wanted to end up or what steps she needed to
take to get there. But an opportunity would develop she would
hear about and she would know it was right for her.
By the same token, she
has known when it has been right to stay. She has worked as
a student adviser within the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program
for the past decade and sees no reason to go anywhere else.
Her diplomat's lineage
may have showed a bit years ago when she helped calm the waters
between a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish national who had come
here to study as part of the program.
The Cypriot plastered
his office space with huge "Free Cyprus" posters that covered
the place like wallpaper.
To understand how provocative
these posters were, you have to know that Cyprus' population
is roughly 80 percent Greek, 20 percent Turkish.
Turkey invaded northern
Cyprus in 1974 following a Greek-Cypriot coup to overthrow the
president. In 1975, the Turks announced the establishment of
the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus. In 1983, the Turkish
Cypriots declared their independence, but only Turkey recognizes
their self-proclaimed government.
Given this history, it
is easy to see why Crowe didn't see the posters as a way of
promoting peace and harmony within the fellows program. In the
mind of the Greek Cypriot, that 1974 war was still being waged.
But if Crowe had anything to do with it, he would not be fighting
it with other students in her program.
"The point of the
program is to bring people together to have a dialogue, and
I felt these posters were very divisive," she said.
In the past months, the
subject of war and sensitivity about it has once again become
a part of campus life. Crowe, in her diplomatic style, tries
to sidestep it. She is a public servant, she said, and giving
political speeches is not a part of her job description. All
she would say about the current state of international affairs
is that she does not believe war is the answer to the United
States' current troubles around the world.
As reluctant as Crowe
is to talk about herself, she can be even less at ease talking
about the lives of family members.
She does not want to come
across as boastful, or worse, appear to be laying claim to achievements
that do not belong to her.
At the same time, though,
she recognized that her curiosity about the world and about
differences in people did not spring out of nowhere, either.
Her mother would end up
caught in an emotional struggle over Japan, the country she
grew to love as a girl and the country the United States would
fight during World War II.
Crowe rekindled many of
her mother's torn memories about Japan when she visited Japan
to commemorate the 100th anniversary of St. Luke's International
Medical Center, the hospital in Tokyo her grandfather had helped
"It was an amazing
experience, a very emotional experience," Crowe said of her
visit. "I think what impressed me so much was that, even though
my grandfather had been dead since 1935, his life and work was
still fresh in the minds of the people there."
The city Crowe saw at
that visit bore no resemblance to the one her mother had known
Tokyo was firebombed to
the ground in much the same way Allied planes had obliterated
Dresden, Germany, she said.
In the same way she is
reticent talking about or claiming credit for her family's past
achievements, it takes some doing to get her to talk about her
children. Their achievements, like her forbearers, belong to
them, not her.
Her daughter is a political
science professor working at Duke University.
Her son is a professor
at Indiana University where he teaches Hungarian studies in
the Department of Slavic Languages. That's always confusing
to people, she said, given the fact that Hungary is not a Slavic
Asked what role she did
have in shaping their future lives, Crowe said only, "I encouraged
them to travel. I encouraged them to leave Chapel Hill. I encouraged
them to explore the world and do things independently and to
follow their dreams."
In many ways, it is the
same kind of advice she doles out to the students who seek her
She keeps up with events
as everybody else does, but unlike everybody else, she has another
resource to draw upon to deepen her understanding -- the students
she sees daily from around the world.
"What I get is a
much deeper understanding of what their lives are like, what
their views are of current affairs and conflicts and what their
attitudes are toward us as a country," Crowe said.
There are students in
the program now from Armenia to Uruguay.
"All of them bring
different perspectives, and they share them very openly," Crowe
said. "Anytime we are exposed to a different culture, we broaden
our base of understanding."
It is hard to make blanket
statements about what the rest of the world thinks of the United
States, she said, but there are a several broad perceptions
that people seem to share.
One constant theme is
that the United States is a "very consumer-oriented society,"
Crowe said. At the same time, most international students see
the United States a friendly society as well.
As for Crowe, she has
seen enough of the rest of the world to know that she doesn't
have it too bad staying right where she is. She does not like
living in big cities, and so Chapel Hill seems to give her the
best of both worlds --small town appeal with a rich cultural
life that many cities can't match.
While she has worked at
the University for four decades now, she spent many of those
years working in part-time positions while rearing her son and
One reason she stays at
her job is to accrue the credit she needs to retire. But it
would be a mistake to assume that's the real reason.
In a different kind of
way that she had imagined as a young woman, her work here has
taken her on a different kind of journey, one that has enabled
her to get to know people from all around the world and to take
on and master a variety of tasks that have kept her both challenged
"I enjoy working,
how about that," Crowe said. "I enjoy working where I am, and
that's not bad at all."
note: This story is the second in a series featuring 2003 winners
of the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award. The late
C. Knox Massey of Durham created the awards in 1980 to recognize
"unusual, meritorious or superior contributions" by University
employees. The award is supported by the Massey-Weatherspoon
Fund created by three generations of Massey and Weatherspoon
families. Chancellor James Moeser selected the honorees from
nominations submitted by the campus. They each received an award
citation and $5,000 stipend.