COLEBROOK — After 43 years on the job, Millard “Woody” Crawford is hanging up his hooks this week as one of the longest-serving utility linemen in the North Country.
A native of the upper North Country, Crawford, 67, has worked for the New Hampshire Electric Co-operative since 1975, all out of the Colebrook District Office on Route 3, directly across from LaPerle’s IGA. His last day is Jan. 11, when he will become officially retired as of 3:30 p.m.
The northernmost of the co-op’s facilities, the Colebrook District Office takes power obtained from Eversource and distributes it to some 1,500 co-op members in Columbia, Colebrook, Dixville, Stewartstown, Clarksville and Pittsburg.
The office maintains miles of overhead lines, and chances are that when those lines went down sometime over the past five decades, Crawford and a colleague or two were there to put them back up.
The son of the late Almon Crawford, who died when his son was just 2½, and Mary (Wells) Mongeau, Crawford is a 1969 graduate of Colebrook Academy. He attended college for a year, having followed his mom, who remarried, to Connecticut.
In the summer of 1971, Crawford came back to his hometown and took a job digging and setting poles for the co-op. He stayed on, did some painting and learned land surveying.
Some four years later, Crawford recalled during a recent interview, he was standing in the driveway of Ray Hinds, who then held the position of district representative, making a pitch about why Hinds and the co-op should hire him.
Several hours later, Hinds hired Crawford and eventually took Crawford under his wing.
“He (Hinds) taught me so much about line work,” said Crawford, adding that the way a person went about becoming a lineman back in the mid 1970s was significantly different from today.
“We just went out and learned on the job,” said Crawford. Maintaining rights-of-way was also a less formal affair then versus now, said Crawford, adding the biggest change he has witnessed as a lineman is the disappearance of working farms.
Crawford views bringing power to the back country as the co-op’s primary mission.
He said hooking someone up to the grid remains a joy for him.
“It’s just an adrenaline thrill,” he said, and that feeling, along with his co-workers and members, will be what he will miss in retirement.
Co-op President and CEO Steve Camerino said Crawford did the co-op proud.
“Woody is one of the most exceptional people I’ve met in over 35 years in the workforce. For the last 43 years he’s been there for our members whenever they’ve needed him. His ability to balance caring for others, fulfilling his professional obligations, and being true to himself is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. Those traits have made him a leader in the co-op, and someone who can’t really be replaced.”
Richard Adams Carey, author of “In the Evil Day: Violence Comes to One Small Town,” called Crawford “one of the many heroes” in Colebrook on the day of Aug. 19, 1997, when Carl Drega — a loner nursing a quarter-century’s worth of land-use grudges — shot and killed four people: NH State Troopers Scott Phillips and Les Lord; Colebrook District Court Judge Vickie Bunnell; and Dennis Joos, editor of the Colebrook News & Sentinel.
At the time of the shooting of the troopers, Crawford and his partner Mark Monahan were responding to an outage north of their office. They observed Lord get shot and Drega, carrying an assault rifle, made threatening gestures at the men, said Carey.
Nonetheless, the duo decided to do something and they got back in their co-op truck and drove down Route 3 “stopping traffic and possibly saving the lives of those who might have wandered into the IGA and gotten into the middle of it all,” said Carey.
Crawford, who is the father of three children — Cassie and twin sons Tyler and Garrett — said the day of the shootings was one of the darkest of his life, made more so by his close personal connection to both the Bunnell and Lord families.
The most senior of the co-op’s unionized employees and a former steward with the IBEW Local 1837, Crawford said his retirement comes at a good time for the Colebrook District Office, which just last week hired a new worker to join the staff and recently saw the promotion of Jeff Young to the post of district representative.
“I’m leaving with this office being in a good place,” he said, and with many fond thoughts of his time at the co-op which saw him work at nearly every district office and to also travel to Florida and Connecticut to assist in restoring power after storms there.
At the co-op, “everybody is family here,” said Crawford. “They’re always willing to help and to go beyond. I’m going to miss each and every one of them.”
He won’t, however, miss some things about being a lineman, like the physical demands of the job which have seen him tear both rotator cuffs and undergo two hip replacements.
Affectionately known as “The Mayor” around the district office and beyond, Crawford is just beginning to make plans for his post co-op life.
He is certain that he will retire on Jan. 11; that a retirement party in his honor will be held on Jan. 12 at the Colebrook Country Club; and that Jan. 13 will be a day of “recovery.”
On Jan. 14, Crawford said he will begin “a job I couldn’t refuse — jury duty” at Coos County Superior Court.