Government Printing Office Is a Family Affair

Posted June 22, 2010 at 6:12pm

On his own, John Crawford has had a remarkable career. Crawford, 69, has worked at the Government Printing Office since 1966, working his way up to production manager in 2007, a role in which he oversees about 800 workers.

Yet Crawford might stand out even more as part of a pattern: He is one of four generations of his family who have worked for the agency.

Crawford’s grandfather, Thomas Norris, began working at the GPO around the turn of the century as a bookbinder, retiring in the 1940s. Several of Norris’ children lined up jobs there, and when Crawford was a young man looking for a job, he turned to the printing industry.

“Printing is a family industry, and I needed a job,” he recalled last week, “so my brother and cousin and a friend worked at Haynes Lithograph and said, ‘Hey, get a job out here,’ so that’s where I went.”

His son, Nick Crawford, 36, was less casual about his start in the printing industry. The second of three children, Nick Crawford studied to be an illustrator, then did graphic design work at a magazine and for the Minor League Bowie Bay Sox. His move to the GPO in 1999 came through a family connection, too.

“My dad let me know that a position opened here and that we had a design department,” Nick Crawford said.

The GPO, which on Wednesday will celebrate its 150th anniversary, is the kind of place that seems to inspire folks to stick around. For its anniversary celebration, the GPO will welcome about 300 to 400 current and former employees, who will hear comments on the milestone from Public Printer Bob Tapella and Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, GPO spokesman Gary Somerset said.

The event kicks off a period of celebration with a new website and a new publication of a book about the history of the GPO that was released at its 100th anniversary. Then on March 4, the agency will recognize the 150th anniversary of its opening with the release of a new book on its history.

The Crawfords aren’t the only long-serving family to be represented at Wednesday’s event. Sisters Shelley Welcher, 41, and Donna Simms, 38, say they have counted nearly 20 relatives who have worked at the agency since their grandfather and a great-aunt started there. Eight are employed there now, including two summer interns. Welcher is an assistant production manager who started at the agency in 1991; Simms, who works as Tapella’s executive assistant, has worked at the GPO on two occasions totaling 14 years.

[IMGCAP(1)]The women consider themselves “GPO babies.” Their father, Charles Simms, (the son of a GPO employee) worked in electronic photo composition and plant production from 1966 until he retired in 2004. When the girls were growing up, they cheered the GPO in softball games against other agencies and went to school with other kids whose parents worked for the printing office.

Donna Simms recalled that she didn’t tell her father when she got her second interview at the GPO for a job in the inspector general’s office.

“Before I got home that day, I had a job offer,” she said. “I didn’t tell my father until the day I was scheduled to start, and I said, ‘Daddy, can you give me a ride to Union Station?'”

After the two arrived at the GPO, she said she finally admitted to her father that she also had a job there. “I kind of played a trick on him,” Simms said.

Today, the two women often get lunch together and use each other and other relatives as resources when they need help with other parts of the agency. In a way, they’ve also grown their family inside the agency’s brick walls. Welcher said the GPO is like extended family to her.

“My children’s godmothers are GPO employees. I’m godmother to a couple of kids whose mothers work here at GPO,” she said. “There are people here who have known us since we were babies.”

The Crawfords foster that close relationship at the workplace, too. Though John and Nick Crawford work in different parts of the agency and joke that they wouldn’t acknowledge each other if they passed in the halls, they share a commute from the Maryland suburbs. Not much business is discussed on the way; instead they use the time to argue sports. The father, who coached all three of his children in baseball, basketball and football, is a fan of local sports teams, but the son caught a Los Angeles bug early in life and defends the California teams.

Lately it has become a time to discuss the future, too. A month ago, Nick Crawford’s own family expanded with the birth of his first son, Jaxon. The infant is a long way from making any commitments to sports teams or careers, but the early bet is on many decades of productivity at a large agency not far from Capitol Hill.