Harry Herbert Crosby

April 18, 1919 ~ July 28, 2010 (age 91) 91 Years Old


Harry Herbert Crosby, long-time resident of Newton, MA and of Lovell, ME, died peacefully at Jesmond Nursing Home in Lynn on July 28, 2010. He was 91.

Harry was born in 1919 to Guy and Eva Crosby in New England, North Dakota. His family moved to Oskaloosa, Iowa, where, during high school, he played clarinet and started, in his words, a “floperoo” of a dance band called Harry Crosby and his Maroon Melodies.

Harry entered the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, Iowa, a happy period of his life about which he spoke often, especially marrying Jean Evelyn Boehner, from Chillicothe, Missouri, in 1943, and the fun of working at the Student Union as a “Union Boy.”

In 1942, he joined the WWII war effort as a cadet, trained as a navigator, and arrived in England in June, 1943 with the 100th Bomb Group (Heavy) of the Eighth Air Force. Rapidly promoted to Group Navigator, he was responsible for assembling as many as 2000 warplanes from various bases in England, leading them to their targets and safely home again. After a full tour of 25 missions, he remained in England for seven more, serving until the end of hostilities on May 9, 1945. He left the service with the rank of Lt. Colonel and many medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star and Croix de Guerre.

Returning to school, he graduated from Iowa with an M.A. in 1947 and then from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, where Wallace Stegner supervised his Ph.D. thesis in 1953. Harry taught English composition and American literature at Iowa City, where he was Writing Supervisor of the Rhetoric Program, from 1950 to 1958, when he moved with his wife and four children to Newton, Massachusetts for a faculty position at the College of Basic Studies at Boston University. He retired from Boston University in 1984, after chairing the Department of Rhetoric at CBS and authoring or co-authoring with CBS colleagues eight textbooks on college writing. During his early retirement, he served briefly as Director of the Writing Center at Harvard University.

His combined military and university experience prepared him to help develop curriculum at the Air Force Academy, early in its history in Colorado Springs. In 1960, Harry took a leave of absence from Boston University for two years as Director of Studies for the Pakistani Air Academy in Risalpur, (West) Pakistan. There with his family, he helped develop a pilot training program into an academy like the service academies in the United States.

During his twenty-six years in Newton, he and Jean were very active in church, community and civic affairs. They attended Grace Church where Harry served on the Vestry Committee and, with Jean, supported church sponsorship of several immigrant Cambodian “boat people” families. They chaired the Newton campaign effort for Representative Father Robert Drinan during several election seasons and, in 1980, Harry worked in Representative Barney Frank’s first congressional campaign. He was also an early and long supporter of Michael Dukakis’ political career. Harry served on the Newton Board of Aldermen from 1970 – 73, during which he was particularly pleased to support development of both the Newton Arts Center and low-income housing. Harry’s wife Jean died of cancer in 1980.

Harry married Mary Alice Tompkins Brennan in 1982 and moved with her to her lovely hilltop tree farm in Lovell, Maine after retiring from academics. During his sixteen years in Lovell, Harry continued his commitment to community service as a Trustee of the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, an active member of the Lovell United Church of Christ, and participant in the Grey Eagles, a New Hampshire organization of veterans of WWII. He also founded and led “The Jefferson Group” a weekly Sunday afternoon gathering dedicated to discussion of scholarly matters and topics of the day.

While in Maine, Dr. Crosby authored two more textbooks and, in 1993, Harper Collins published his well-received WWII memoir, “A Wing and a Prayer”, a personal history of the famous “Bloody 100th” Bomb Group flying B-17s out of England. The book was carried by the Smithsonian Institute gift store and through their catalog for several years and Harry traveled extensively promoting the book. In 1998, for his 79th birthday, Harry’s children took him to London for interviews about his WWII service, and for a visit to the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum at Thorpe Abbotts, the small airfield from which Harry flew. Harry remained an active veteran by serving for two and a half decades as editor of the 100th Bomb Group Association’s “Splasher Six” publication. His name figures in nearly every history of the Eighth Air Force, especially Edward Jablonski’s book about B-17s, “Flying Fortress”, and Harry was interviewed as recently as last year for his appearance in a March, 2010 television show, “The Bombing of Germany” shown on PBS’s “American Experience”.

In 2001, Harry moved from Maine to Springhouse, an assisted living facility in Jamaica Plain, MA., where he enjoyed the many activities, visits and travel with his family, and the highly professional and friendly staff until just six weeks before his death. At Springhouse, he was called “Mr. Wonderful” because, when asked how he was, he reliably replied with a hearty, “Wonderful!” and during his brief stay at Jesmond Nursing Home in Lynn, he was called “Friend” because that’s how he addressed everyone else.

Harry is survived by his wife, Mary Alice Brennan-Crosby, of Lovell, Maine; four children, Steve of Boston, MA., April of Fairbanks, Alaska, Jeff of Lynn, MA., and Rebecca Hutchinson of Deerfield, NH., eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild; and three stepchildren, Haley Childs, Maura Brennan Burton and John Tompkins Brennan, and five stepgrandchildren.

Arrangements are being made by the Eaton Mackay Funeral Home. As he wished, Dr. Crosby will be cremated and buried beside his first wife in the East Parish Burying Ground, the Old Newton Cemetery on Centre Street. A memorial service is planned for Saturday, August 7 at 2:00 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, 76 Eldredge Street in Newton, MA. Harry’s friends and colleagues are invited to join his family at this service to celebrate his long and full life. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Springhouse Employee Holiday Fund, Springhouse, 44 Allandale Street, Jamaica Plain, MA. 02130.

  • Memorial Service

    August 07, 2010
    2:00 PM

    Grace Episcopal Church

    76 Eldredge Street
    Newton Corner, MA

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