Jesse T. Crowder

Sun executive helped computerize and streamline the newspaper's operations from the 1960s to the 1980s.

October 06, 2008|By Rona Marech | Rona Marech,rona.marech@baltsun.com

Jesse Thomas Crowder, a former Sun executive who played a role in the computerization of the paper's accounting practices and newspaper production, died Friday at a nursing home in Mount Dora, Fla. He was 84 and died after an illness partly related to severe osteoporosis.

Mr. Crowder, an accountant, first ventured into the Sun building in 1961, when he was assigned to perform an outside audit. He was hired immediately after completing the job and quickly rose through the ranks to become the treasurer and chief financial officer of The Sun, which was then owned by A.S. Abell Co.

When he arrived at the paper, most workers received their pay in cash from a "cash cage," and the paper was mechanically typeset.

By the time he retired in 1985, direct deposit was the norm, a new financial accounting system was in place, the paper had new presses, and production was mostly computerized. The privately held company also expanded its holdings in television, radio and magazines during his tenure.

"He was a bean counter with a great, big heart. He cared as much about the people as he did about the numbers. And he absolutely understood what the numbers meant," said Reg Murphy, the publisher of the paper from 1982-1989.

"He was involved in almost every technological advance at the paper because he was interested in efficiency."

In a mock front page created to honor Mr. Crowder's retirement, Mr. Murphy wrote, "He has genuine interest in getting things right. If there is a misunderstanding, clear it up. If there are erroneous figures, change them. If an associate is being unreasonable, say so. But there is a charitable spirit behind the bluntness. ... Nobody tells me more politely when I am wrong."

Mr. Crowder grew up on a small farm in Artemas, Pa., where he attended a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade.

He moved to Elkridge with his family shortly after graduating from high school and went to work in the warehouse at Westinghouse Electric Corp.

He enlisted in the military during World War II, volunteering to join the Coast Guard during his induction, though he was unsure what that meant, said his daughter, Caroline Bott of Pensacola. He ended up learning to use a new radar guidance system and made 13 oceanic crossings during the war, transporting troops and supplies to Europe and bringing back prisoners of war. His vessel, the USS Gordon, brought men to France for the Normandy invasion.

"He talked of the frustration of seeing a ship shot down and seeing men live in the water and knowing you had to keep moving or otherwise your own vessel would go down," Ms. Bott said.

On the Gordon, he frequently had long conversations with an admiral he greatly admired. The relationship with the highly educated admiral was partly responsible for inspiring Mr. Crowder, the first in his immediate family to complete high school, to push himself to achieve, his daughter said.

After his 1946 honorable discharge, he returned to Westinghouse, then learned to repair televisions before attending the University of Baltimore. He graduated with an accounting degree in 1957. After a stint at a paper plant and the accounting firm where he did outside audits, he was hired by The Sun.

Mr. Crowder married the former Grace Elizabeth Dieter in 1947, and they had four children. He always loved farming, though he considered it a hobby, and even during his time at The Sun he lived on a farm and owned land in New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. He posted a sign in his Sun office that read "I speak farming," and he collected antique farm equipment.

"We believe he was the only employee in the Sun parking lot that would have a bale of hay in his trunk," said his son Jesse T. Crowder III of Orlando, Fla.

He continued to farm in his retirement, helping out a son who owned land in Gettysburg and Bedford County, Pa., where he spent his summers. He and his wife lived in Florida during the winter.

"He loved to go out and see the cattle, feed the horses, check on the crops, see how the wheat was looking, how the corn was looking. He enjoyed planting a large garden for many years. He returned to his roots," Ms. Bott said.

A funeral will be held Oct. 11 at Fairview Christian Church in Artemas.

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, he is survived by two other children, Wayne Crowder of Frederick and Wesley Crowder of Gettysburg; as well as 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

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