Marvin Crayton, Sr.

Husband, father, youth counselor

Longtime Claremont resident Marvin Alan Crayton, Sr. died at his Montclair home on April 10, 2012 following several years of declining health. He was 87.

Born January 5, 1925 in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Crayton was the second son of Emmett and Bertha Crayton. In addition to his older brother Vernon, he had 2 younger siblings, twins Jerome and Jacqueline. Mr. Crayton’s father was from Sparta, Georgia and his mother, was a direct descendent of the Reverend Richard Allen, a founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. The Craytons raised their children in the AME Church in Atlanta.  

Growing up in the segregated South, Mr. Crayton experienced his share of racial intolerance. His father was a short-order cook and the partial owner of a café that was located across from the capitol building and frequented by politicians like Eugene Talmadge, a Georgia governor and later a US senator known for his segregationist views. As a boy, Mr. Crayton helped out at the restaurant after school and during the summer, but his family was not allowed to sit down and eat at the restaurant because of their skin color.

Mr. Crayton graduated from Booker T. Washington High School at the age of 16 in 1941, followed by a year at Morris Brown College. In the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, his brother Vernon joined the United States Navy and in 1943, Mr. Crayton followed suit, achieving the rank of Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class. He was among the first African Americans to complete training to serve as a medic in the Navy, and he graduated with distinction—in the top 10 percent of his class. After service in the Pacific Theater during WWII, he was honorably discharged in 1946.

Following a Navy mentor who in peacetime taught medicine at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, Mr. Crayton resumed his studies at the Jesuit University. He converted to Roman Catholicism before matriculating to Omaha University (later the University of Nebraska at Omaha), and maintained a deep spirituality for the rest of his life. 

While working full-time and still a student, Mr. Crayton fell in love with Kathleen Willis, also a student in Omaha. Ms. Willis was white and, at the time, the state of Nebraska did not recognize interracial marriage, so the couple traveled to Minnesota to get married. Their first child, Jacqueline, was born in 1952, followed a year and a half later by their second daughter, Cathleen.

Mr. Crayton graduated from UNO in 1955 with a dual bachelor’s and master’s degree in the social sciences. Crayton, as his friends and colleagues called him, also joined the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. Mr. Crayton had a knack for staying in touch and, throughout his life, kept up friendships formed at UNO and during his high school days in Atlanta.

 After the dissolution of his marriage, Mr. Crayton relocated to Los Angeles with his daughters and became a counselor at the Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall Eastlake facility. Thus began nearly 30 years with the County of Los Angeles Probation Department in various ascending capacities. He earned the respect of colleagues for his work with the minor probationers entrusted to his guidance.

Also, upon his arrival in Los Angeles, another opportunity surfaced: he met the love of his life, Barbara Jean Yancey. The couple, who would have celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary this past July, enjoyed a marriage marked by love and commitment. Mr. Crayton and his family moved to Pomona in 1960 and, within a couple of years, welcomed a third child, Marvin, Jr. Mr. Crayton, who awoke his children by enjoining them, military-style, to “rise and shine,” could be stern at times, according to his daughter Cathleen.

“One of his sayings that he used to tell us—and I’m sure this was his philosophy as a probation officer when he dealt with kids who had gone astray—was ‘It’s hard but it’s fair,’” she recalled.

Mr. Crayton had a playful side, however. He loved to take his children on outings to the movies or the planetarium, and strived to impress on them the importance of not taking themselves too seriously. He had silly nicknames for his kids, including “Nutface” for the girls, and sometimes softened his advice by delivering it in the form of funny, rhyming ditties.

In 1971, the family moved to Claremont. An avid swimmer, Mr. Crayton’s first move in his new town was to build a swimming pool. When not splashing around, he enjoyed watching sports on TV, especially football, and cultivating flowers like roses and tulips in his well-kept garden. He made time for regular get-togethers with friends, including hosting summer barbecues and annual Christmas parties, and was active in the community, coaching football and serving on various boards and councils.

Mr. Crayton retired from the Probation Department in 1986. He enjoyed his free time, taking weekend trips to Las Vegas with his wife and golfing with his son, while remaining engaged locally in the Pomona Valley.  

As the years passed and disease took its toll, Mr. Crayton did not always recognize those closest to him, but his family shared that his zest for life still often came through.

“We all recognized his sense of joy in life and his gratitude during those years of suffering,” his daughter Cathleen said. “His physical presence will be missed greatly, but he will never be far from those who knew him and love him.”

Mr. Crayton is survived by his wife, Barbara; by his daughters, Jacqueline and Cathleen; by his son, Marvin, Jr.; by his grandchildren, Flynn, Bryan, Hillary and Camille; by his great grandchildren, Xavier and Nevaeh; by his sister-in-law, Corine; by his nieces, Brenda, Gloria, Mia and Gabrielle; by his nephews, Craig and Vernon Jr., and by numerous colleagues and friends.

Marvin Crayton is interred at the Riverside National Cemetery.  A Mass of Remembrance will be held at Our Lady of the Assumption Church on Saturday, August 25, 2012 at noon.

—Sarah Torribio


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