Graig Crossley: Easy to admire, hard to pin down
By Lou Fancher
Graig Crossley, Moraga's 2015 Citizen of the Year, is an enigma.
Sure, his 10 years on the Moraga Town Council (including two stints as mayor) is a matter of public record, and his work on various commissions and committees dates back to 1981. Family, friends and fellow educators know Crossley taught government, history and social science at Richmond High School for 18 years and served as a high school administrator for eight years before retiring in 2009. Some people know the whys and wherefores of the 65-year-old military veteran's 16 months and one day serving as a U.S. Marine during the Vietnam War.
Even so, guests honoring Crossley at the May 16 dinner event at the Soda Center on the Saint Mary's College campus will find a complex man -- maybe even an inscrutable one. Perhaps it's an extension of a philosophy he holds about teaching impressionable teenagers that makes Crossley a man who's easy to admire, but hard to read.
"My job was to get my students to think, to compare and look at difference of opinion," he says. "If they knew where I stood, they'd be less likely to consider an alternative position. My students had a hard time pinning me down."
Crossley had finished his first year at Chico State when he decided to enlist in the Marines to avoid being drafted. "I figured, if you had to go in harm's way, you might as well get the best training you can get," he said.
One day in 1969, walking on a paddy dike in a dry rice field, a rocket explosion changed Crossley's life forever.
"It took both of my legs -- one clean off, one held on by a tendril. It killed the guy in front of me and perforated the guy behind me with shrapnel. One moment, I'm walking, the next moment I'm lying on my back, looking over at my leg," he recalled.
Crossley was medically discharged, and after months of surgery and therapy he finished his degree at Chico. He later earned an MBA from Golden Gate University and a teaching credential from San Francisco State University. He and his wife Sibylla married in 1973 and moved to Moraga in 1975. They have two adult sons, Roark and Derek.
"Derek will be speaking at the (Citizen of the Year) dinner and I agreed not to edit what he said, so it'll be interesting," Crossley says.
His son might talk about the six years his dad was Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 246, or the more than 30 years Crossley has been a member of the Kiwanis Club.
Al Dessayer, a longtime friend, is likely to speak about Crossley volunteering at annual town events or helping to build the Rancho Laguna play structure. "Graig has unselfishly given of his time and resources to better the entire community and he has done this with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eyes," Dessayer says.
Neighbor Susan Holmes says her home has until recently been a voting precinct and "it was a rare election that Graig was not first in line when the polls opened."
Crossley, if he speaks at the dinner, may confound people looking for a cliché. Is a man dedicated to civic service also a person who vigorously objects to the increasing bureaucracy in government that determines what signs go up or which trees homeowners can plant? Is Crossley the war hero the same person whose face softens into peaceful repose when he shows off dozens of "trees in pots" that fill his backyard, or the results of a newfound interest -- creating abstract, acrylic paintings?
Crossley is proud of Moraga's history of volunteerism and the frugal intentions of the council that had him earning a plaque with the title "keeper of the public purse." ("It wasn't my money, it was the public's, so you don't just spend it willy-nilly," he says.) But he has sharply critical comments about contemporary society, including that in Moraga.
"During the last 10 years, it's almost as if a portion of the country didn't even know we were at war as there was little or no impact on civil society. With Vietnam, there was the draft and people voicing their opinions right and left."
Ultimately, Crossley says a citizen is "someone who recognizes there are rights -- but also that there are responsibilities to see that things get done the way they should be.
And then, in characteristic, ambiguous fashion, he adds, "Of course, 'the way they should be' varies from person to person."