Powering up, Crawford style

Every community has one. You know, that power couple that everyone knows by their first names.

In Lynnfield, that couple is Phil and Ellen, as in Phil and Ellen Rubbico Crawford.

The North Reading natives moved to Lynnfield in 1987, four years after the former North Reading Middle School sweethearts said their “I do’s.”

Since then, the duo has been involved in all things Lynnfield. You name it, they’re on it. And have done it.

From volunteering in the schools to youth and high-school sports to a myriad of charities, to rotary, the senior council and town boards and committees, to leading a grassroots effort to build MarketStreet Lynnfield, simply put, if it’s happening here, count on Phil and Ellen to be there, front and center.

Ellen, who was honored at the fall Town Meeting with the 2021 Daniel Townsend Award for Excellence, says it all begins with family.

“I am very much my mother’s (Barbara Rubbico’s) daughter,” said Ellen. “I grew up in a family of 10 kids and my mother and father (Joe) were always there to support us. I attribute my work ethic and belief that it is so important to help out in the community to my parents. I’m passionate about doing whatever I can to help improve the quality of life in our town, as so many others have done.”

Crawford’s contributions to the community and the real-estate industry have been recognized on countless other occasions. She is a three-time Platinum Club Award honoree, a Double Centurion Award honoree.

Her activism began when the couple’s children — Jimmy, Ashley, Britnay and Nicole — enrolled in the Lynnfield Public Schools.

“Schools depend on volunteers for so many things and I’ve always felt that it’s important to do whatever it takes to make the schools the best they can be,” Crawford said. “To do that, you have to give your time. It’s extremely satisfying.”

Crawford served as a PTO member from 1990-2009 and chaired the Summer Street School Pumpkin Fair and Auction for 12 years, raising more than $200,000 for several school-improvement projects, including playground equipment and media-center upgrades.

Active with the Lynnfield Athletic Association and Moving On ceremonies at both the Summer Street and middle schools and the Post Prom Committee at the high school, Crawford was also a key member of the district’s 2000 and 2021 school-building improvement projects.

A member of the Friends of the Lynnfield Senior Center and the Friends of the Lynnfield Library, Crawford is an active member of the Village Home & Club and serves on the board of Townscape, an organization that has worked to upgrade Glen Meadow Park, Jordan Park, Newhall Park and Forest Hill Cemetery. She has taught CCD classes at St. Maria Goretti Church for 16 years and is an active Lynnfield Catholic Collaborative parishioner and donor.

Phil attributes much of the couple’s success to their complementary personalities.

“From the time we first met, we had opposite personalities,” he said. “Ellen is intense and I’m a low-stress guy. I have thick skin; things just roll off my back. I’d rather go through life with a smile on my face; that’s just my personality.”

Phil’s contributions to the community run a parallel course to those of his spouse. It all started with — you guessed it — family.

“I’ve always been athletic so it was no surprise that our kids were, so whatever sport they played, I coached,” he said.

In 1993, Phil took Lynnfield youth basketball to another level, establishing the Lynnfield-Peabody Basketball program with Peabody’s Kenny Sasso and Jack Vecchione.

“My kids and a lot of other Lynnfield kids all loved to play at a higher level than we had at the old Lynnfield YMCA, so we needed to do something,” he said.

Phil said he was also working with Ellen on “all the school stuff.” He branched out to other town initiatives, including the Fields Committee, a committee that was the driving force behind the high school turf field complex. Phil served one year as chair before handing the reins over to former Select Board member Arthur Bourque.

“We went from the worst facility on the North Shore to the best. Our fields were embarrassingly bad at the time,” he said. “We knew with the added revenue we’d have with MarketStreet that this was our opportunity to bring in the best facility in New England. The entire project was paid (for) with MarketStreet meals taxes and didn’t cost the town a single penny.”

Phil’s first real opportunity to get involved in town government came in 2005.

“Patty Moore was the chair of the Finance Committee and asked me if I had any interest in coming on board, and I said I did and served on the committee until Al Merritt was ill and he asked me to take his place on the Select Board in 2011. I served as chair that first year and have been there ever since.”

Phil was also a key player in the town’s purchase of Centre Farm.

“I don’t remember when, but I was chair of the Select Board and got an emergency call at the lake. The caller said ‘you have to come home and buy the farm.’ A developer wanted to demolish the buildings and put up three house lots. I knew there was a lot of support for the town to buy it, but was stunned when the town voted to buy it, 590-10. Imagine that many people would come to a Town Meeting.”

A couple of other projects Phil is proud of are the resolution of the Perley Burrill impasse and the increased funding for road repairs and maintenance.

“That took six years to clean up, but now there is a beautiful house instead of the eyesore it had become and the dangers it posed to that neighborhood,” Phil said. “And the roads? Between the state money coming in MarketStreet opening, we were able to double what we were spending up to over $1 million. My philosophy has always been to do what it is in the best interests of the town and its residents, always about the quality of life.”

Perhaps Phil’s most satisfying contribution to the community — one that will help keep the town’s youth safe and healthy — is A Healthy Lynnfield, an organization he founded in 2017 that is committed to raising awareness of substance-use disorder through education.

“We had so many drug overdoses and deaths due to substance abuse and nothing was being done on an organized level so we knew we had to do something,” Phil said. “We started talking to people in Danvers and Wakefield who had started initiatives. I still remember we had what I called ‘A Call to Action’ and more than 40 people showed up to the first meeting. It was an eye-opener as people really needed this at a time when they were pretty much powerless on their own.”

The couple grew up in North Reading. Phil said he had his eye on Ellen while they were in middle school. Phil was 13. Ellen was 12.

“A friend of Phil’s named Paul asked me out,” she said. “But instead of going out with Paul, after I met Phil, I decided to go out with him instead; that was the beginning.”

After high school, Phil headed west to the University of Massachusetts, where he majored in business administration and finance. Ellen enrolled at Mass Bay Community College. While she had planned to become a court stenographer, she switched gears and became a paralegal at a Malden law firm specializing in real estate, a decision that paid off handsomely when she started working in real estate 10 years ago.

These days Ellen is busier than ever, working as a top producer in an explosive real-estate market for William Raveis Real Estate, and, of course, putting in at least another full-time week devoted to her charitable activities.

Phil, who has five siblings, is co-owner of A.A. Dority, a family-owned surety bond business started by his great-great grandfather in 1899.

“We’re both fourth-generation and now my son, Jimmy, makes it five,” Phil said.

When not volunteering or working, Ellen finds time to play competitive tennis, while Phil squeezes in as many rounds of golf as he can and also plays in an adult-soccer league.

Perhaps the one role the Crawfords relish most these days is spending time with their three grandchildren, either at home, at the family’s vacation home in New Hampshire, or at community events.

“That was the plan: to have kids while we were young,” said Phil. “We didn’t want to be old grandparents, so I guess you could say it worked the way we hoped it would. We are having the time of our lives with our grandkids and I’d like to think they will learn the importance of giving back the same way we did from our parents. It’s never too early to learn.”