Crittenden embraces ‘second career’
By Pamela A. Keene
Roy Crittenden didn’t intend to embark on a second career when he took a safe boating course from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary nearly 20 years ago. But he and his wife Mary Sue were hooked.
Retired from Eli Lilly & Company, Crittenden had a love of the water and decided that he wanted to learn to be a better boater. Several years later, the Dunwoody resident and his wife undertook a two-year trek along the Intracoastal Waterway on their 38-foot motor yacht “Southern Accent.” “It was an incredible experience,” he said. “Little did we know how involved in boating we would become.”
Today, Crittenden is the Public Affairs Officer, a volunteer position, with Flotilla 29, based on Lake Lanier. He’s also serves the US Coast Guard Auxiliary at the division, district and national levels in the same capacity. He spends as much as two hours a week speaking to groups, representing the Auxiliary at public events and schools, serving on committees and interfacing with the media. He writes water safety articles for area publications. He also coordinates Auxiliary involvement in the annual Atlanta Boat Show. “Roy’s a natural at his work with the Coast Guard,” said his wife. “His background in sales and his outgoing personality are well suited for handling this public affairs post.”
Crittenden was born in Darien, Ga., on the coast. His father worked for the Agricultural Experiment Station in Tifton and was on the team that developed the Vidalia Onion. In Darien, the elder Crittenden was involved in experimental crop growth. Roy studied pharmacy in college, graduating from the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy. Mary Sue, a Dublin native, attended the Georgia State College for Women before getting her nursing degree at Georgia Baptist School of Nursing in Atlanta.
The couple met at the cosmetic counter at Strange Drug Company in Dublin. Roy was a pharmacist there and Mary Sue was shopping. “She was pretty and I saw her name on her checkbook, so I introduced myself,” Crittenden said. Mary Sue admits that she “checked him out” as well. Three months later they were engaged and five months later they married. That was 54 years ago. The couple had two children – Tom who passed away several years ago and Bill, who is a commercial airline pilot and is married to Alicia, a preschool teacher. They talk with son Bill every day and enjoy spending time with their grandchildren, Reid, 14, and Liam,12, who live in Acworth and see each other frequently.
The Crittendens are active in Perimeter Church in Johns Creek, where Roy serves as a Deacon and on the Widows’ Committee. He’s quick to explain that this is a group of women who have lost their husbands and call on members of the church to assist them in various ways. Mary Sue also communicates with these widows. “Roy’s always been sort of a flirt, but I don’t worry; I keep him on a short leash,” she said, laughing.
Additionally, the couple stays busy with travel, including periodic trips to Europe. Roy played golf for 50 years, winning the city championship in Waynesboro as a teen. He served in the US Army for two years, returned to Dublin and his job at Strange Drug Company where he met his future wife. Three years later, in 1960, he joined the sales force of Eli Lilly & Company. They’ve lived mostly in the South, with a nine-month stint at the home office in Indianapolis with Eli Lilly. Crittenden moved up the management chain with the company, first in Birmingham, ending up in Atlanta from 1976 to 1992.
Then came retirement and that fateful boating class. In 1985, purchasing a lake house in Dawson County cemented the couple’s commitment to Lake Lanier. By that time, Roy was serving as public affairs officer for the Auxiliary, starting out at the Flotilla level with then Flotilla 24. The group has since merged with Flotilla 26 to create Flotilla 29 on Lake Lanier. Crittenden made the transition to public affairs officer for the new group.
Crittenden cuts a sharp image in his Coast Guard uniform, which seems to have become his standard attire. It’s rare to see him around the lake in street clothes. The uniform reflects his highest elected office of Division 2 Commander, with oversight of six flotillas through middle and north Georgia, serving from 2005 through 2006. He represents the Coast Guard Auxiliary in parades, including the Dacula Memorial Day event and the Dunwoody 4th of July Parade, where he and a team of Coast Guard Auxiliary members ride in one of the flotilla’s patrol boats towed on a trailer.
He calls on marine dealers and marina owners, passing out and replenishing safe boating literature. He participates in the voluntary free vessel safety check program that occurs at marinas and Corps of Engineers parks in the spring and summer, checking boats for the appropriate safety equipment and ensuring that boaters know the rules of the road.
“The Coast Guard has given the Auxiliary responsibility for recreational boating safety,” he recently told the Lake Lanier Association in an interview. “In that capacity we offer safe boating courses and perform free vessel safety checks to ensure that boats have the State of Georgia required equipment on board and that it is in good working order.” Additionally, the group performs safety and regatta patrols from mid-May through September on weekends and holidays from noon until 8 p.m. “It’s the most active time for recreational boating on the lake,” he said. “We monitor VHF channel 16 and lend aid to boaters who broadcast a need for assistance.”
For Crittenden and his fellow members of the Auxiliary, boating safety is top of mind. “You know, there have been a number of deaths on Lake Lanier and national Coast Guard statistics show that in 75 percent of water-related deaths, the victims were not wearing a life jacket,” he said. “That’s the single most important message that we can promote: Wear Your Life Jacket. “Secondly, anyone who is a serious boater really needs to take a safe-boating course,” he said. “Over the years, the messages from the US Coast Guard haven’t changed – we continue to direct our energy and attention to preventing boating accidents, deaths on the water and their primary causes.”
To say that Crittenden retired 19 years ago isn’t a lie. It’s just stretching the truth a little. He thrives on staying busy and being the public face of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary at Lake Lanier. He and Mary Sue still boat on the lake in their 26-foot cruiser “Refuge.”
Mary Sue, a 34-year breast cancer survivor, has her own missions as well. She frequently visits people in the hospital and is involved with the Auxiliary’s social events. “Mary Sue puts up with a lot,” Crittenden said with a smile. And Mary Sue replies, a twinkle in her eye: “It’s so wonderful that he got into boating and the Coast Guard Auxiliary since he retired. It’s been a life-saver for him.”