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Ander and Kitty Crenshaw at home

It is an unheard-of breach of protocol to interrupt a congressman who has the floor at the U.S. House of Representatives while in the middle of closing arguments for a bill.

When proceedings were halted July 8, 2016 so the entire U.S. Congress – Democrats and Republicans alike – could give Rep. Ander Crenshaw a standing ovation, he was amazed.

Crenshaw was in the middle of presenting arguments for a $21.7 billion appropriations bill when Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader, remarked they were not rising because it was Crenshaw’s last bill but “to recognize the representative from Florida who has been a gentleman and statesman for eight terms and to wish him well in his retirement and as a scratch golfer.”

“This just never happens,” said Crenshaw, who recently stepped down from the 4th Congressional District of Florida. “My Chief of Staff was crying; it was pretty overwhelming.”

Crenshaw’s advocacy for the military, the disabled, VA accountability, procuring mosquito nets to prevent malaria and funding to combat Zika are just a few of his major legislative accomplishments.

“Everyone in Washington is so aware of what Ander has done – here no one has a clue,” said his wife, Kitty Kirk Crenshaw. “He oversaw and funded subcommittees on IRS, FEC, OMB, FCC, SBA and the U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal Judiciary,” she said, rattling off an alphabet soup of agencies. “I am so proud of him,” she said.

Making his mark

Growing up in Riverside, Crenshaw attended Robert E. Lee High School, where he was student body president, graduating in 1962. After attending law school at the University of Florida, Crenshaw entered politics as a young lawyer in practice with his father.

“Ander saw the impact politics had on every part of our lives by watching my dad when he was governor, so Ander ran for the Florida House and served from 1972 to 1978, then later served in the Florida Senate for eight years,” Kitty said. During his time as a senator, Crenshaw served as the Senate president, the first Republican to do so in 118 years.

Crenshaw’s influence has run the gamut from A (the ABLE Act) to Z (Zika funding) and some wonder how he decided where to put his time and energy. 

“It is a world of conflicting sorrows. There is never enough time or money so I had to pick and choose,” he said about the subcommittees and causes he chose to support. “You see things that can make a difference in someone’s life.”

Crenshaw was instrumental in passing the ABLE Act (Achieving a Better Life Experience) which gives individuals with disabilities opportunities to have tax free accounts to use for education, housing and transportation. He promoted and obtained funding for the National Veteran’s Cemetery in Jacksonville, then pushed for the already funded Veteran’s Affairs Outpatient Clinic to be built.

When he first took office in the U.S. House of Representatives 16 years ago, Crenshaw instituted the Veteran’s Special Recognition Ceremony.

“It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I realized that veterans of the Normandy invasion were eligible for a medal. The only drawback – they had to go to France to get it,” he said. “I thought why not replicate the medal and give it to them here?”

The first ceremony 15 years ago was very moving for Crenshaw and his wife. “One man said he had to lose 38 pounds to wear his old uniform,” said Kitty. “Another put down his oxygen tube and his walker and had his son walk up with him to get his medal.”

Recently Crenshaw escorted newly-elected Congressman and former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford around Washington and gave him some advice. “It’s no secret. It is about relationships, about building bridges – being humble and promoting bipartisanship in relationships,” he said.

Although Crenshaw cast his last vote in Congress on Dec. 8 he said he is not really retiring, just making a transition.

“I feel very good about the decision. All good things must come to an end, and I’ve done a lot of things that I set out to do and stayed longer than I had planned,” he said. “Kitty and I talked about it and feel that change and growth are synonymous.”

“Ander has the best staff, and we will miss them. People think politics is awful but you get to know the most phenomenal people,” said his wife.

Crenshaw laughed, “I won’t miss the circus, but I’ll miss the clowns.”

Some of those “clowns,” his dedicated staff, helped him celebrate with a hilarious mannequin challenge at a staff party before he returned home.

Focusing on family next

Family has always been a priority for Crenshaw.

“When I served in the Florida Senate, I could drive home from Tallahassee in time to tuck (daughters) Alex and Sarah in at night. I’ve been commuting to the Hill since I’ve been in Congress,” Crenshaw said. “I am fortunate to be in a district where I was born and raised. I’m coming home, but I actually never left,” he said.

Concerning their transition, Kitty remarked she has been “unspeakably blessed to be beside him. There is no clue what’s next.

“We are trusting and taking a step into never…never…” Kitty said. “‘I had to let go of the old trapeze, float through that Never-Never Land, trust God and grab for a new one,’” she continued, quoting from her recently published book, “The Hidden Life: Awakened.”

With good humor, Crenshaw related the story of a short-lived acting career when he had an opportunity to be in the movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” While milling about on the set waiting for a part, Director Robert Redford approached him and said, “Mr. Crenshaw, acting is a funny business. Careers come and careers go, and yours is gone.”

Kitty laughed and said, “In case you are wondering, acting is not his next career move.” 

The Crenshaws look forward to their next adventure as they let go of the old trapeze and grab onto whatever it might be. But, Crenshaw’s priorities are in order.

“I’m so proud of Kitty. Maybe I can help promote her book, and I look forward to using my coupons to take our granddaughters, Kate and Riley, to the Dreamette for a good old-fashioned brain freeze,” said Crenshaw.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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