January 25, 1999
Volume 51, No. 17
Sudden death of Joe Crooks leaves colleagues, friends stunned
Last week the Emory community paused to catch its collective breath after the sudden death of Vice President and General Counsel Joe Crooks. On and off-campus colleagues, family and friends attended a Thursday morning memorial service at Glenn Church for Crooks, who died of an apparent heart attack Jan. 18.
"So sudden was his passing just three days ago that we all thought at first that Joe had somehow blundered into a most uncharacteristic situation," President Bill Chace said at the service. "Death took him by surprise, took him unfairly; death did not understand the nature of his loyalty; death did not understand his perfect fidelity to his friends; death did not understand how much that friendship had become, ever so quietly and ever so steadfastly, central to the lives of so many of us."
Crooks came to the University in 1981 and became general counsel in 1982. He was promoted to vice president in 1993 and last year became the first person at Emory to be elevated to the rank of senior vice president. "We know Joe's family and have a full appreciation of how much he loved his wife and sons," said Executive Vice President John Temple. "We also came to appreciate how much Joe loved Emory and how dedicated he was to protecting the interests of the University. Joe will be sorely missed by the University and all who knew him."
The latest in a long line of lawyers going back to his great-great-grandfather, the Washington, D.C.-born Crooks graduated with honors from Lehigh University and received his law degree from George Washington University. He served for fours years in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps at Fort McPherson, where he represented, among others, Hugh "Buck" Thompson in various investigations and courts martial stemming from Thompson's actions during the My Lai massacre. Thompson was the helicopter pilot who happened onto the massacre and who ordered his gunner to train an M-60 rifle on a group of American GIs chasing 10 Vietnamese civilians. Thompson was instrumental in saving them and a 3-year-old boy.
More than 11 years later, Crooks wrote a letter urging the Department of the Army to award Thompson the prestigious Soldier's Medal for his actions. "What Buck Thompson did at My Lai 4 should be acknowledged by the Department of the Army as enormous bravery coupled with enormous compassion," Crooks wrote. Thompson received the medal last year, and Crooks proudly traveled to Washington to witness the ceremony.
Compassion is a word friends and colleagues closely associated with Crooks as well. "Joe was very generous with his time and supportive with all of us," said Associate General Counsel Lori Spencer. "By his example he taught us not just about giving good legal advice but about giving legal advice informed by compassion and common sense."
Crooks is survived by his wife, Laurie, and sons Ryan and Jim, both recent graduates of Emory College. In lieu of flowers the family asks that memorial gifts be send to Emory's Joseph W. Crooks Memorial Fund at 1641 North Decatur Road or to the same fund at George Washington University, Law School Development Office, 1819 H Street, NW, Suite 1225, Washington, D.C., 20006.