In memoriam: Ralph Crawshaw

Ralph Shelton Crawshaw, born July 03, 1921, died May 24, 2014

A psychiatrist with deep interests in medicine, the environment, compassionate health delivery and teaching, Dr. Crawshaw was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1921, graduating from New York University College of Medicine in 1947. His internship was at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York and his residencies were at Menninger School of Psychiatry, Topeka, Kan. and Oregon State Hospital in Salem.

Ralph Crawshaw

Ralph Crawshaw

He served in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops and as a U.S. Navy physician to the Marine Corps. After practice in Washington, D.C. and Topeka, Kan., he established his private practice in Portland in 1960. He was inspired to come West by a newsreel he saw as a child depicting Mt. Hood. “I saw that mountain and knew that’s where I wanted to be.”

Dr. Crawshaw’s pioneering legacy will live on through the many organizations he founded. Lifeworks Northwest was originally established in 1961 as the Tualatin Valley Child Guidance Center to address the lack of mental health services for children in Washington County. Quoting the Lifeworks NW website “Legend has it the idea took shape on the ski slopes of Mount Hood, when a prominent local psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Crawshaw, and Jack Murdock, then CEO of Tektronix, set out to fill the gap in community services.” Lifeworks NW has since grown to serve more than 17,000 children, adolescents, adults and seniors annually with abuse prevention, mental health and addiction recovery services.

In 1982, Dr. Crawshaw founded Oregon Health Decisions, an independent citizen’s organization dedicated to bringing the general public into the process of shaping health policy. This led to the Oregon Health Plan which was conceived and realized in 1993 by Dr. Crawshaw and emergency room physician and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. The Plan was designed to make health care available to the working poor while prioritizing health services.

Dr. Crawshaw suggested the formation of the Foundation for Medical Excellence in 1984, whose mission is to promote quality healthcare and sound health policy by addressing the doctor-patient relationship, as well as physician professionalism and well-being.

Healthcare Volunteers Overseas was formed in 1986 in response to an article by Dr. Crawshaw published in the Journal of American Medical Association, where he urged fellow medical practitioners to “make a substantial difference to your colleagues in developing countries.” Since then, over 4,500 volunteers have traveled overseas on over 8.000 assignments worldwide.

Dr. Crawshaw was a prolific and impassioned writer, authoring “Compassion’s Way: A Doctor’s Quest into the Soul of Medicine,” and other books and articles on a wide range of topics, including a film review column entitled “The Physician at the Movies.”

In addition to many other honors, Dr. Crawshaw was appointed to the U.S. National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine and was honored as the Oregon Medical Association’s Doctor-Citizen of the Year in 1978. Dr. Crawshaw also served as president of the Medical Society of Metropolitan Portland, as well as Senior Scholar at the OHSU Center for Ethics in Health Care.

Survived by his wife of 67 years, Carol; and children, David and Laura, he was a loving and supportive husband and father. Dr. Crawshaw’s courage, compassion and enduring sense of humor will be with us always and his commitment to relieving the suffering of others will be his eternal legacy. A memorial service will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday June 12, 2014, in the Terwilliger Plaza auditorium.

In lieu of flowers, we kindly request that any donations be sent to Lifeworks NW: