Any Big Deals Cooking?
A Tribute to Joan Crowley, Crowley’s Unofficial Queen
When I first met “Mrs. Crowley” (it took me a while to call her Joan, although she insisted from our very first meeting), it felt a bit as I imagine it would feel to meet the Queen. In many respects, she truly was queen of The Crowley Company. Supporting her entrepreneur husband, Jerry and, following his passing, her sons Chris (now deceased), Pat and Kevin, Joan Crowley was family royalty in every way and was a regular Crowley Company presence every Thursday without fail.
From her perfectly creased trousers, stylishly embroidered shoes and crisp white collars to her perfectly coiffed red hair and – depending on what she was wearing – blue or green eyes that missed nothing, her five-foot-and-a-little-something frame was held straight by perfect posture, making her seem far taller than her actual height.
Joan’s formal role at the company was that of early receptionist and, later, professional shopper, making weekly Sam’s Club and Staples runs for office and kitchen supplies. In truth, she came to work so that she could have lunch with “her boys,” as she called them, and a quick smoke with longtime employees turned longtime friends.
Mrs. Crowley, as she’ll always be to me, passed away on December 31st, leaving behind her two sons, her daughter, Joanie, and eleven grandchildren, all of whom she publicly adored. This Saturday, March 19th would have marked Joan’s 25th anniversary on the Crowley payroll, but that belies the 15-plus years prior in which she held things together at home as the family-owned company grew from a den in Potomac, Maryland to three locations worldwide.
From Joanie’s endearing testimonial at the crowded funeral, I learned why Joan was always so nattily dressed; while in her teens, she worked for Garfinckel’s and became one of their youngest buyers at 21. She also spent decades working at Talbots. I learned how she worked hard to keep and grow lifelong friendships. I learned how she truly engaged with her grandchildren to be a relevant presence in their lives.
Still, I was curious about the role she must have played in the formation of – and continuation of – The Crowley Company while working, raising four children, being active in her church and community and (according to a few stories from credible sources) enjoying life to the fullest. Hint: she did not cook.
I asked Pat, Crowley’s president, and Kevin, Crowley’s COO, if they would answer a few questions about their mom and the company. The following are a few nuggets that help to build the big picture that was Mrs. Joan Crowley.
- Kevin and Chris were in their mid-20’s, Pat was 14 and Joanie was 12 when J. F. Crowley came into being. As Kevin recalls, “Dad started duplicating [micro]film as a side gig while being a full-time manufacturers rep for Extek and Itek.” (You can read more about Jerry Crowley and The Crowley Company’s history here).
- Pat recalls that the business was run out of the family den – and later basement – which “meant that we had to be quiet all day; not easy.” Adds Kevin, “Dad traveled a lot and left the running of the house to Mom. At some point, having the household and the business in the same location drove them both crazy and the solution was a single office suite where J.F. Crowley became MMLS (Micrographics Multiple Listing Service), a brokerage of sorts for new and used equipment.” He remembers reader printers by the dozens being loaded into the family station wagon and later, after the purchase of a company called Keyan, thousands of microscopes and loupes in both the house and the office.
- As the company and the family grew, Joan returned to work in the retail industry. Says Pat, “It was less about the money and more about making sure the family had health insurance. My Mom loved to work so it was never an issue, but it certainly was a sacrifice that helped Dad’s business thrive.” Kevin adds, “She always worked long hours, weekends and holidays but never seemed to mind. She loved waiting on people – except when they were trying to return a dress or gown that had clearly been worn to an event, a pet peeve – and always focused on customer service.”
- When asked how Joan supported the business, both agreed that her moral support was a keystone to the company’s success. Pat added that “Mom played a pivotal at keeping the wheels on the bus at home. With Dad traveling so much, she ensured that we never missed a beat as kids.” Kevin remembers that after their father passed, he and Chris were charged with ensuring their mom was financially cared for. “During the transition of the company from microfilm to digital, which happened at about the same time, she proved to be very flexible which allowed us to steady the ship and move the business forward.”
- As the company grew, both Kevin and Pat noted her pride in her family’s professional accomplishments. Says Pat, “Mom was very proud of Dad and even more proud that Chris, myself and later Kevin kept the company growing. Up to the week she passed, her regular questions were ‘How’s business?’ and ‘Any big deals cooking?’” Kevin remembers that as kids, this pride sometimes led to embarrassment as Joan would share Crowley tchotchkes with neighbors as if they were of the same value to others that they were to her. This was not limited to Joan as he also remembers the family heading to a beach vacation and having Jerry hand out a Crowley pen to the Bay Bridge toll collector saying, “Everyone needs one” whereupon the four children tried very hard to become invisible.
- When asked how much she understood about the details of Crowley’s business offerings, Pat and Kevin had the same answer: “She knew enough.”
Thursdays are no longer the same at The Crowley Company, just as every day is a little bit different for Kevin, Pat and Joanie who each got a check-up call from Joan every night until the nights they spent at her bedside. Her legacy is one of hard work, faith, smart dressing and unconditional love for her family, her friends and the company she helped to build.
I end with one last hail to our unofficial queen, Joan Beringer Crowley. Rest easy; your legacy continues.
Cheri Baker, Crowley’s Director of Communications, has a career that spans newspaper, agency and corporate communications. A self-described “generalist specialist,” she believes common sense, good grammar, nice manners and a dash of fun go a long way toward successful public relations. Find Cheri Baker on LinkedIn+