Walt Crowley: Local Seattle historian loses voice in cancer operation

Historians in the News

With 12 hours left on his voice, Walt Crowley popped in a tape at the party in his Phinney Ridge home Thursday night. On it, a 20-years-younger Crowley delivered a speech to Vietnam veterans at Seattle Center, his tone true, his pitch sure.

When it stopped, he turned on the mic. Without it, the crowd would not have heard Crowley's voice. It's now just a gravelly rasp.

Crowley, the longtime chronicler of Seattle's people, places and things, has cancer of the larynx.

The party, dubbed "Famous Last Words," was a last chance for friends to hear him speak. Former Seattle mayors Norm Rice and Wes Uhlman and about a hundred other friends mingled over hot dogs and chocolate cake.

Today, "I'm having my throat ripped out," Crowley said. In an eight-hour operation, surgeons will remove his larynx and cut a hole in his throat for him to breathe through — good-bye to his trademark bow ties, he has blogged.

"It's really famous last natural words," Crowley said of the party. "We'll find a way to make noise on the other side."

Rather than suffer privately, Crowley, 59, has turned his disease into a real-time historical event. This past week, Crowley took his voice on a farewell tour, appearing on public radio and local TV news stations. He has blogged about his disease, with photos of him rubbing his bald head and holding up the fist of Black Power in his Che Guevara beret. (Crowley is Irish-American-English.)

Crowley is perhaps best-known most recently as the co-founder and executive director for the nonprofit that runs HistoryLink.org, an online encyclopedia of Washington history. He, his wife, Marie McCaffrey, and Paul Dorpat, a local historian and Seattle Times contributor, started the site in 1998. It now has about 4,500 essays written by staff, contributing writers and volunteers....
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