CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story should have stated that Crowe’s family members are honorary hosts of the memorial service on Thursday, April 7, but will not be in attendance.
Perhaps in the most fitting testament to his life and spirit, there was more laughter than tears at the memorial service celebrating the life of Christopher Crowe. The 29-year-old legislative assistant for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, died on March 30 after contracting a staph infection that caused severe heart damage.
His death has caused an outpouring of grief among colleagues, particularly the makeshift family of fellow congressional staffers who had come to know and love Crowe’s playful spirit and easy sense of humor in his five years on Capitol Hill.
Crowe was the friend who could be counted on to make you laugh until your sides hurt, the one who could make even the most dreary day seem a little brighter, said Kat Skiles, a staffer on the Energy and Commerce Committee and the communications director for the LGBT Congressional Staff Association, of which Crowe was president.
“He lit up the room and he made everybody feel like a million bucks,” Skiles said. “On my lowest days, he could turn the most awful scenario into something funny, something where I was laughing about it.”
Crowe grew up in rural Gamaliel, Ky., graduating from Eastern Kentucky University in 2005 with a degree in political science. He arrived in Washington shortly thereafter, first as an intern for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and then for Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. Crowe immediately took to the environment on the Hill, even doing a stint as a waiter at the popular Hill bar the Pour House.
“He just had a huge personality that made it hard to not like him. He made friends instantaneously,” said Miguel Ayala, the intern coordinator for the office who hired him at the time. “Whether he was meeting other staff in the office or working with other interns or greeting folks that would come in when he was sitting at the front desk—he had a huge personality.”
In 2006, Crowe secured a permanent position with Johnson’s office, where colleagues remember he could make even the grueling hours and endless line of meetings a little more fun. He remained busier than ever, getting his master’s degree in government and global securities from Johns Hopkins University in 2009.
“We would be working so hard that you kind of have to have a sense of humor,” said Marcus Paulsen, who worked in Johnson’s office with Crowe and was his neighbor. “He was one of the funniest people I knew. More than anything, I’m going to miss his sense of humor.”
Still, while he relished his role as the resident social butterfly, he was also a dedicated public servant and a passionate advocate for the LGBT community. He was a staple at D.C. rallies in support of last year’s repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays serving openly in the military, and he was one of four founding members who helped to resurrect the long-dormant LGBT Congressional Staff Association.
“Chris felt like it was important that the LGBT get to know each other and build a community because he knew that if you have fun with each other and you get to know each other, you’ll be better colleagues,” said Scott Simpson, former president of the LGBT Congressional Staffers Association. “Chris’s strength really was bringing people together. He really never met a stranger.”
The organization sought to be a home for LGBT staff members on the Hill and encouraged them to be open and comfortable with their sexual identities. Crowe himself set an example for others.
“He was never ever afraid of being who he was,” Skiles said. “He was just always himself—out and proud.”
Crowe had long suffered from health problems, undergoing open-heart surgery last summer. Friends said that through it all, he remained strong and in high spirits, even volunteering with an elderly heart patient after being discharged from the hospital.
One memorial service, which drew about 200 people, has already been held in Crowe’s honor. Another is slated to take place in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress at noon on Thursday, hosted by the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and the LGBT Congressional Staff Association, with Crowe’s family as honorary hosts.
This article appears in the April 6, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.