Lavon Crosby

Former State Sen. Lavon Crosby gets a hug from ex-state Sen. Adrian Smith on the last day of the 2000 Legislature. Crosby died Wednesday. At right is former state Sen. DiAnna Schimek.

ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star file photo

Lavon Crosby had a knack for leaving a positive impression as she went about her business as a politician, arts supporter and friend to children in need. 

She didn't have to get in anyone's face to accomplish what she wanted. She did it with subtle suggestions and by garnering respect with a conscientious and diligent daily way of being, family, friends and co-workers said. 

Crosby died Wednesday at age 92. She was a wife, mother, supporter of the arts, musician, state lawmaker, political staffer and community volunteer. 

"For me, she was a stellar example to live by," said her youngest son, Fred Stuart. "I'm inordinately proud of everything that she achieved."

She was married to former Nebraska Gov. Bob Crosby in 1971 after both were widowed. Between them they parented six children. 

Lincoln Monsignor Clarence Crowley had set them up to go on a date, said her son, Mike Stuart. Bob Crosby picked her up in an Oldsmobile 88, making a big impression on her sons.

"We got her all dressed up and shoved her out the door," he said. "They hit it right off and never looked back." 

Throughout her life, Tim and Mike Stuart said, their mother instilled perspective, the ability to stay above the fray, and to not shy away from the passionate defense of her beliefs.

As an Irish-Catholic mother, she was strict but tenderhearted, they said. 

She described herself as a "hard-headed, soft-hearted conservative." Someone else once called her a Republican with a heart, one without a mean-spirited bone in her body. 

Crosby was raised in a family of Democrats, but joined the Young Republicans because they asked her first, she once said.

She was one of the few people, one would suppose, who was able to wring a two-minute public apology out of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, after he called her a liberal and a member of an outraged women's group, neither of which were true. 

Limbaugh had picked up inaccurate information when "USA Today" attributed a quote to Crosby that had actually been said by Sue Ellen Wall, then executive director of the Lincoln-Lancaster Commission on the Status of Women. 

And Crosby might have had some influence on the artist who painted murals on the Capitol walls when in 1993, she "encouraged" him to portray women accurately, and not just in subservient roles, in those murals. Because women are the backbone of society, she said. 

Encouragement and subtle influence was her way, Tim Stuart said.

It worked for him when, after graduating from college and not knowing what to do with his life other than play guitar in a rock and roll band in bars, she softly suggested: Have you thought about Washington, D.C.?

He started working for Congresswoman Virginia Smith at age 25 and stayed on Capitol Hill 10 years.

"I owe a lot to little moments like that," he said.  

Crosby worked for a time in Nebraska Sen. Roman Hruska's Washington, D.C. office, but when her husband, Les Stuart, was dying in 1970, the family returned to Nebraska, transferring to Hruska's Omaha office.

Crosby ran for a seat in the Legislature in southeast Lincoln's District 29 in 1980 but was defeated by incumbent Shirley Marsh. When Marsh decided not to run in 1988, Crosby ran again and won.

Sen. Ernie Chambers, who served with Crosby 12 years in the Legislature, said he couldn't think of anyone there he thought so much of and got along with so well. That's despite their disagreement on the issue of abortion. Crosby was a devout Catholic.

"She was so nice she could have gone to heaven without dying. For real," said Chambers. "She was one of those people who was almost too good to be walking around on this earth." 

Clerk of the Legislature Patrick O'Donnell said Crosby had a calming effect on her fellow senators during debate.

"Even though Lavon would have strong positions on issues, she always would have the ability to kind of calm things down, let members regroup a little bit, and go on and continue with the discussion," O'Donnell said. 

C.K. Duryea was Crosby's legislative aide for a dozen years, and said the senator was so much more than what many people could see. She understood what humanity brings to the world. 

She was a major supporter of drunken driving legislation that sought to lower the legal level of blood-alcohol content from 0.1 percent to .08, Duryea said. 

"And the thing that she is most proud of in the Legislature would be the passing of the Nebraska Cultural Endowment Fund," she said. 

Crosby served on the Education, Health and Human Services and Appropriations committees. 

Her health deteriorated after she fell in March and hit her head. 

Crosby retained her sense of humor to the end, instructing her kids about her funeral: I want them to have a real wake and sit around and cry and have a drink and talk about what a swell person I was.

Services are pending with Butherus, Maser and Love in Lincoln. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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