“He was a brilliant man,” said Dr. John Morrow, who worked with Crabtree for many years at Anniston Radiology Group. “He was a great radiologist and a great contributor to the community.”
Morrow said Crabtree tried to keep the state of radiology in Anniston at the cutting edge, calling him a “pioneer of nuclear medicine in Anniston.”
Crabtree served in a number of leadership roles in the medical community and beyond including as founder and president of the Alabama chapter of the American College of Radiology, counselor to American College of Radiology, and president of the Calhoun County Radiological Society and the Eastern Radiological Society.
As chief of staff at Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center, Crabtree worked to get an oncology department started, which finally happened as he retired in the mid-1980s, according to his family.
Crabtree graduated from the University of Alabama in 1941 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Army, originally stationed at Wheeler Army Airfield in Honolulu. Crabtree told the Star in 1991 that he noticed the formation of strange aircraft above Schofield Barracks on Dec. 7, 1941. And when planes began strafing the barracks, he said, ‘’That’s the first we knew…It was as complete a surprise as if we were bombed today in Anniston.’’
Crabtree completed other tours in the Pacific, including Okinawa and Iwo Jima. After the end of World War II, he spent four years at the University of Alabama Medical School, graduating in 1950, and then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He moved to Anniston with his family in 1957 and joined what is now Anniston Radiology Group.
In addition to his professional and military exploits, Crabtree was a very loving husband, said those who knew him. His wife, Mary Matthews Crabtree, who had grown up in Anniston and was very prominent in the community, had Alzheimer’s disease late in her life, according to Morrow. “And he took care of her in ways you would not believe,” he said.
Crabtree’s daughter Maxine Crabtree Sikes said her parents traveled everywhere together. With four daughters, Crabtree was outnumbered by women.
“He was always there for us…He supported us in developing our talents,” she said.
A gentleman, Crabtree’s personality made him a local favorite. Even in his later years when he had become less mobile, said Anniston Country Club general manager Chip Howell, Crabtree was able to come to supper club at least once a month. “People always enjoyed seeing him and being with him because he was quite a character,” he said.
Howell, who also served two terms as mayor of Anniston, said Crabtree — his dad’s golf buddy — was always supportive of him, whether about golf or governance.
“When I saw him, I always wanted his opinion and he was never short of giving it,” Howell said. “He always had good advice and a piece of wisdom for me.”
Crabtree is survived by his four daughters — Sikes and her husband Jeff, Margaret Crabtree Ritchie and husband Tommy, Susan Crabtree Burns and husband Avery and Mary Graves Crabtree — four grandchildren — Meeghan Callahan Sowinski, Suzy Burns Howerton, Samuel Crabtree Sikes and Christa Ferrel Sikes — three great-grandchildren — Henry Sowinski, Evatt Howerton and Avery Howerton — and caregivers Dorothy Wlison and Clara Sales.
Sikes said Crabtree was a fun dad, taking his family waterskiing, to the beach and other outings.
“He was always game for a good time,” she said.
Ever the sportsman, Crabtree was himself an avid golfer, and according to his daughters, at 70, golfed his age.
And if the heavenly hunt exists, family friend Scott Andrews said, he believes that Crabtree has joined his old Anniston hunting buddies—Andrews’ father Glenn Sr., Marcus Howze, Macon Hipp, Miller Sproull and Pete and Leonard Roberts — and “they are all sitting around right now planning the opening day quail hunt for Thanksgiving Day,” he said Saturday. “That was their great love: quail and bird dogs. When I thought of that last night I smiled.”
Star staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.