But when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he returned to Jackson in 2006 to be closer to his family.
To focus on the positive, Crawford adopted a childhood pastime that led to a colorful project that represents his hopeful vision of a better Jackson.
“LEGO Jackson is about promoting civic pride. It has well-kept streets and homes. People go out and meet their neighbors. They reduce, reuse and recycle. They have a solar wind farm. They confront crime. They respect each other and the city.
“LEGO Jackson is my dream of how Jackson will be, and it’s a little whimsical to make it fun.”
The Greater Jackson Arts Council and the city of Jackson welcomed the arrival of LEGO Jackson in the main gallery of the Arts Center of Mississippi Thursday on Crawford’s 46th birthday.
“Scott’s dedication to detail is truly astounding,” said Janet Scott, Arts Center executive director, in a news release. “Children of all ages will stare at his work in wonder. We’re delighted to host this event, especially at this time of the year.”
Those who gaze upon LEGO Jackson will find many interesting things in the details, including a model of the Jackson Convention Complex complete with aliens.
“You may recall, last year, there was a UFO convention,” Crawford said. “I got that idea and ran with it. I thought if we are going to have a UFO convention, let’s invite the aliens. . . . The point is LEGO Jackson welcomes everyone.”
The 1989 Millsaps College graduate, who earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1995, said you have to visualize something before you can make it a reality.
Judy McNeill, Crawford’s mother, said her son has been working on LEGO Jackson for years. For his birthday today, she bought him more LEGOs.
“He started a few years ago when he got sick,” she said. “He wanted to brighten up his house for Christmas and make it a little more festive. … Some of his friends, last year, convinced him to try to share it with the city of Jackson.
“You can spend hours just looking at the details. He even has a picture of the mayor in the mayor’s office in City Hall. There’s a copier in the bank. There’s the drive-through teller window in the bank. His attention to detail is obsessive compulsive,” she laughed.
Creating the LEGO city has been a way of coping with the progressive illness.
“He could get very depressed and sad,” McNeill said. “This takes him out if it and makes him forget about his illness completely.”
McNeill said she received a call from her son when he was living in Florida. He told her he had died the night before at the hospital. Before being resuscitated, he said he had “a long talk with God, and he had never felt so peaceful.”
“God told him it wasn’t his time and that he had to go back for other people,” she said. “He’s just trying to fulfill God’s plan for him, which is working for disability rights, working for Keep Jackson Beautiful, and LEGO Jackson is the fun part. That’s kind of his mission in life. He’s trying to leave the planet better than when he got here.
McNeill, a retired hospice nurse, said Crawford has been inspirational.
“When he got sick, the whole family had to go through a grieving process,” she said.
Multiple sclerosis attacks the central nervous system resulting in fatigue and weakness that, in some patients, may lead to paralysis.
“As much as I hate this disease, I’m grateful for the experience of going through this with Scott and the family. It’s brought us closer together. It’s given us a new appreciation of life and death, because we know there are things that are worse than death.”
As a result, McNeill’s daughter changed careers from engineering to hospice nurse and recently passed a coroner’s exam. McNeill said her son’s fighting spirit has helped everyone.
Crawford said he knows he’s not going to beat MS, but “I’m not going to let the disease stop me from making a difference.”
–LaReeca Rucker, Clarion-Ledger