Johnny Crawford was memorialized as a coach, teacher and a friend who thought more of others than himself at a packed service Wednesday at East Paris Baptist Church.

This community will miss his caring nature, and will always remember him as a people person who nurtured the best in everyone.

Sharon, his three boys — Johnny Pat, Drew and Greg — his two daughters, Brooke and Sandy, and their families should draw strength from the love shown for their husband and father, and relish in the fact Johnny’s influence will reap benefits for generations to come.

“Coach Johnny Crawford was so influential in my life, not only growing up in this community, but as an adult,” Paris High School athletic director Steve Hohenberger said about his mentor and friend. “No matter what chapter in life I was in, I knew he was always there for me and wanted me to be successful. To come back home and be a part of his last few years is special to me. I know he has affected so many lives in this community, and I feel very fortunate to have had him as a coach, teacher and friend.”

Derald Bulls, director of institutional advancement and alumni affairs for Paris Junior College, remembers his friend’s love for the college where he played football and served as manager of the baseball team before moving on to East Texas State University, now Texas A&M University-Commerce.

“For 50 years, Johnny Crawford had been more than a coach, driver’s ed teacher, supporter, friend and an example of compassion,” Bulls said. “He was a gentle giant with a heart bigger than Texas.”

Bulls — class of 1973 — tells the story of Crawford observing him crossing from the band hall to the main campus when Paris High was located downtown. Bulls met up with a bully and Crawford saw the encounter.

“Later,” Bulls said, “he let me know in no uncertain terms if I allowed that particular ‘bully’ to push me around again, he would apply the board of education to the seat of knowledge.”

Hundreds of locals learned to drive under Crawford’s watchful eye as Paris Junior College’s driver education instructor.

“He was a great guy and had a lot of patience with those kids and didn’t give up on any of them,” former president Bobby Walters said. “He was just the kind of guy you could count on to do what he was supposed to do, and we had a lot of fun kidding around with one another. If all teachers were like him, supervision would be wonderful. and I felt wonderful because Johnny was that kind of guy.”

Not one of Crawford’s regular high school drivers education students, Ayesha Shafiq, wife of cardiologist Khalid Shafiq and Paris Cardiology Center office director, tells the story of learning to drive with him in the instructor’s seat when she first came to Paris almost 20 years ago.

Space prohibits including Ayesha’s colorful story of her first attempts behind the steering wheel, but the following paints the picture:

“I was about to crash his car and cause an accident during one of our lessons when we were in the right turning lane, as he suddenly told me to make a right and then stopped me from doing so by pressing a set of bottom brakes at his end of the passenger seat, when he saw a car headed on the main lane almost crashing into us. He yelled ‘STOP, do you not see the car coming towards us?’ And I replied, but you said to make a right, Mr. Crawford.”

When asked if there were no traffic rules in Pakistan, Ayesha replied, “No road rules, just the traffic lights. Green telling you to go, yellow to stop if you want, and red warning you to stop or you will die for sure. Other than that, when driving in my country every man is for himself, and God is for us all.”

Ayesha shared she spent Wednesday afternoon “in disarray” after the funeral.

“I was kind of lost in my thoughts over how privileged I am to be mentored by such a great man at a point in my life when no one knew me or cared much. Mr. Crawford took me in like I was one of his regular students without any hesitation, without caring where I came from. Looking back, I feel how fortunate I was.”

Yes, Ayesha, we are all fortunate to have known such a man.

Mary Madewell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6976 or at mary.madewell@theparisnews.com.

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