By Callie Hietala
Former US attorney for the Western District of Virginia and longtime public servant Robert Paul Crouch, Jr., 73, died September 8, 2021.
Crouch came from a family with strong ties to the region. His father, a military man, was from the area and returned after his retirement. Both Crouch’s father and mother were active in the community, recalled Roscoe Reynolds, former Virginia State Senator and close friend and neighbor of Crouch. The two men got to know each other when Crouch was working in Washington, D.C. in then-Sen. Bill Spong’s office
A graduate of Drewry Mason High School, Crouch worked for a time at Fieldcrest Mills in North Carolina before he made is first foray into elected office, becoming Henry County’s Clerk of Court in 1975. But, Reynolds said, Crouch “was challenged by seeing how lawyers were working in the court system and he left a very secure position with the clerk’s office” during his second eight-year term to attend law school at the University of Virginia. He eventually returned to Martinsville to practice with the firm Young Haskins Mann Gregory.
Ward Armstrong, a longtime friend and former minority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, recalled that he met Crouch when they were both active in the Young Democrats. Crouch’s wife, Clara, was Armstrong’s first legal assistant when he opened his Martinsville law practice in 1981.
Both Crouch and Armstrong ran for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the Virginia House of Delegates when candidate A.L. Philpott died mid-campaign. Armstrong said their race still holds the record for the most votes in a firehouse primary — 6,500 people came out to vote on a Saturday. By the time the votes were tallied, Armstrong won the nomination by a slim 200-vote margin. He remembers Crouch as a worthy adversary.
“We were very evenly matched,” he said. Even though they were competing for the nomination, “we were on the same team.” Armstrong added that he was proud both men ran positive campaigns and remained good friends.
“I know of no person who was a more dedicated public servant of the Commonwealth of Virginia than Bob Crouch,” Armstrong said.
Reynolds echoed those same sentiments and noted his friend Crouch was “interested very deeply in doing good things for people and trying to help people.”
Susan Swecker, Virginia’s Democratic Party Chair, agreed.
She said the two met in 1981 when she was a campaign worker and they never lost touch. He was the first to call when she was elected party chair.
“He loved politics,” she recalled. “He loved governing, policy, and public service.”
Crouch was one of those warm, inviting people that others seemed to gravitate to, Swecker remembered. He was a mentor to many young people. “I’m just truly grateful to have had him in my life.”
Crouch continued to live in the service of the Commonwealth. He served for a time as Secretary of the Democratic Party of Virginia. In 1993, Crouch was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia. He also served as the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety under Gov. Mark Warner, and in 2005 became part of Gov. Tim Kaine’s Cabinet as the state’s homeland security advisor.
“I got involved in Virginia politics and Democratic politics in the late 80s,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Alexandria. “Bob Crouch was already a name at that point. Bob and Clara, and Bob’s parents, were great people.”
Crouch “was a hardcore democrat, but he wasn’t partisan,” Warner recalled, and noted that Crouch would not dismiss someone’s ideas or viewpoints just because their beliefs didn’t align with his own. “He was someone who always would treat people hugely with respect.”
Warner recalled Crouch’s role during the attacks of September 11, 2001.
“Virginia had been attacked with the bombing of the Pentagon.” Crouch helped try to “figure out how to protect the Commonwealth and our country, but not sacrifice peoples’ rights and values. He was part of all those discussions,” Warner said, and added that Crouch was “very conscious of the fact that we needed to protect Virginia, protect our country, but that didn’t mean it was a license to trample on the Bill of Rights.”
His death is “a loss for Virginia,” Warner said. “I’m going to miss him.”
Crouch is survived by his wife and teammate in politics and in life, Clara, their daughter Emily, his mother, brother, several grandchildren, and a legacy of dedication to public service.