Scholar, man of faith, baseball fan. Born Jan. 26, 1941, in New Glasgow, N.S.; died Aug 16, 2013, in Urbana, Ill., of metastatic prostate cancer, aged 72.
When the cancer had spread to his bones and it became clear the end was near, Donald Edward Crummey expressed his only regret: He wouldn’t live to see another Blue Jays World Series. When you live a life as full as his, what else is there to regret?
Don was born in Pictou County, N.S., the same county where his mother, Dorothy Macdonald, was born and raised. His father, Clarence Crummey, hailed from Greenspond, Nfld. In 1944, Don’s family, including brother Robert, sisters Ida and Clare and cousin Kenneth, moved to Toronto, where his brother James was born. Don attended University of Toronto Schools, then the University of Toronto, graduating with his BA in 1962.
That summer, Don met Lorraine Legge in Edmonton while attending a Student Christian Movement project. The two married in her native Newfoundland in 1964, and had three children: Rebecca, Naomi and Matthew.
While in Kenya on a World Student Christian Federation service program in 1963, Don had a series of discussions with an Ethiopian priest. This kindled his enduring connection with Ethiopia. He studied the country’s history at the University of London in England, taught history at Addis Ababa University for six years, then found a job teaching African history at the University of Illinois, where he stayed from 1973 until his retirement in 2006.
Don’s professional life focused initially on Ethiopian history and later environmental history. His last book was about the 1980s famine in Ethiopia and its environmental causes. He was well recognized for his innovative research methods. As an academic mentor, he was tirelessly selfless and, above all, a good listener. When his home swelled to capacity with international students (many of them Ethiopian) at Christmas and Thanksgiving, he talked with them like they were members of the family.
His personal relationships and faith gave Don the most satisfaction in life. Although known to unleash exaggerated bombast at family gatherings or while skunking a nephew in cribbage, when taking 20 hours to smoke a turkey on a freezing day or leading young nieces and nephews on a hike in the wilderness while loudly proclaiming, “We are not lost” (when obviously they were), this was twinned with intimate attentiveness, generosity and affection.
Those who knew him well knew his external exuberance had a companion tendency toward depression. But he was courageous enough to ask for help. His faith (he attended seminary at McGill University for a year in the early 1960s) and his family helped him manage and retain a joyful nature.
While he came to love the prairies of Illinois, took American citizenship and visited Ethiopia annually, he never forgot his Canadian roots. He referred to himself as “ethnically Canadian” and never stopped loving the Blue Jays.
Don died on Aug. 16, the day after his 49th wedding anniversary. Considerate to the last – holding on an extra day so as not to spoil the party.
Naomi, Rebecca and Matthew Crummey are Don’s children, and Lorraine Crummey is Don’s wife.