Down, But Never Out!

John Crowe, successful businessman and leader, knows first hand what it is like to be down for the count.

By Brian Mast

The fireflies were brillant against the dark sky as John Crowe pulled into the driveway of his country home in Virginia. His wife and two children were at their beach home with her parents, so he was alone to enjoy the night sky. Suddenly, four men in masks came from behind and forced him to let them inside. The thieves demanded cash and jewelry. John tried to remain calm and even joked with the intruders, but he began to fear for his life when they tore off their masks and threatened him.

He led them to his bedroom where he grabbed his .357 Magnum, but as he did, one thief tackled him. As he fought, John was able to fire a few shots, but the attacker, who was on drugs that night, wasn’t fazed by the wounds. John’s gun was wrenched from his hand and he was shot at point blank range in the head.

The attackers fled, leaving John in a pool of blood by his bed. Amazingly, he never lost consciousness, though the right side of his head was blown open and the entire left side of his body was paralyzed. He managed to plug in an old broken phone he had stored under the bed and that night, for the first and only time, the phone worked. He dialed the operator, but with his slurred speech, the police officer answering the call thought John was himself on drugs and hung up the phone.

John was desperate, and losing more blood by the second. At that moment a long-time friend called, only to hang up, believing John to be playing another one of his many practical jokes. Incredibly, as he was losing consciousness, the phone rang again; his friend was calling back as he’d been troubled after hanging up the first time. John’s speech was extremely slurred, but his friend understood enough to call for help. When the paramedics arrived, John’s vital signs had stopped.

Rising from Nowhere
John Crowe was a military brat, moving every year as his father was re-stationed. He finished the remainder of his high school in a private academy, then went off to college at age 18. When his orientation instructor asked what he wanted to study, John’s response was, "I don’t want to be here. What can I take that isn’t difficult?" He ended up choosing Geology, he admits with a laugh, "because I liked to collect rocks when I was in Boy Scouts."

Such was the extent of his career selection process. While at college, he met and fell in love with Jennie Belle Powell, the daughter of a medical doctor. John says with a laugh, "When Dr. Powell met me, I’m sure he was thinking, ‘What’s my only daughter see in this boy.’"

John’s reputation at college was not based on his academic acuity, but rather his outlandish pranks. Stories range from throwing water on the Dean of his college the first day there to blowing up every pumpkin along fraternity row. As a walk-on gymnast, he attained national rankings, priding himself in his strength and ability to overcome difficult odds. And, to his family’s relief, he graduated with a BA in Geology and entered the Master’s program in Engineering. While in graduate school he and Jennie Belle were married.

From the start, married life for the Crowes was far from blissful. As John was learning how to communicate, Jennie Belle was learning how to make do on a very short budget. For their first few months together they were on food stamps. John now admits, "It was a struggle being on food stamps, but it was a struggle that helped shape our future."

Upon graduation, John began working for the state of Virginia as an environmental engineer while Jennie Belle worked in a medical office. It was then, after they had both finally made it out of school and started a career, that they were first introduced to Amway. As he signed up, his first response was, "What if this actually works?"

John jumped in with all his energy and personality, spending all of his free time in an effort to build his Amway business. When they reached a milestone in the business, the Crowes attended a business function. For the event, Jennie Belle wore a dress her mother had made for her from the fabric of the old curtains she had used in college.

But the determination and hard work were finally paying off. In fact, business was doing so well that John decided he would retire, at the age of 27. After only two and a half short years as an engineer, John gave his boss a two-week notice, saying, "I quit, and I’m not coming in next week or the week after that."

Business continued to grow and the fruit of all their hard work. The birth of their first child, Kristin, seemed to make the picture complete. With wealth came the opportunity to have what they wanted when they wanted it. One of John’s favorite ways of making a statement was to drive his gray Roll’s Royce into the bank drive-thru and ask the teller to cash "in small bills" one of his large checks. Soon after, the tellers began to address him more respectfully as "Mr. Crowe."

John and Jennie Belle were loving life, riding high on the waves of financial success. Then, in 1981, it was as if someone pulled the plug and everything went down the drain.

Living in a Vortex
Jennie Belle was pregnant with their second child, John III, and enjoying a smooth pregnancy, right up until the moment of delivery. As soon as baby John was born, he was whisked away into the operating room. The diagnosis: John was born without an esophagus connecting to his stomach.

Corrective surgery was performed 1-1/2 months later, but the outlook, combined with the fact that little John was premature and only weighed about 4 pounds, was very bleak.

In the weeks following John’s birth, Jennie Belle would make the one-hour trip every day to the hospital to feed and hold him. As she sat with him, watching him fight for life, she considered the doctors’ warnings that he could be blind or have cerebral palsy. One night, after returning home, she told John, "I watched John clinically die eight times today." Jennie Belle’s normally positive attitude was being shaken, and John found he didn’t have the answers to comfort her. He admits, "This was the first time I needed something more than me."

Without mincing his words, John states, "Our dreams were being shattered." John was finding that not only were his priorities out of order, but also that he didn’t have a strong relationship with Jesus Christ to bring him through this difficult time. He and Jennie Belle started to pray together, which was something they had never done before.

The first four months were "hell," as John candidly says, and the hospital bills were well into the 6 digit figures. To take a much needed break, Jennie Belle’s parents took her and the children with them to get rest and change the baby’s eating and sleeping habits. While the rest of the family was recuperating in Hatteras, North Carolina, John stayed home to manage the business.

It was during this time, after arriving home late from a business engagement, that John was overpowered by four thieves and shot in his Virginia home.

The ambulance and SWAT team moved cautiously as they believed the burglars to still be in the house, but when they arrived, a full 30 minutes had elapsed since John had called for help. As the helicopter lifted him to the hospital, Jennie Belle was being awakened with the news. She arrived at the hospital to find the doctors giving John almost no chance for survival.

The first night was critical, they explained, and added that with brain injuries as severe as John’s, complete paralysis was the norm. If John were to live, they pointed out, he would be a "cognitive vegetable" at best. One nurse went so far as to tell Jennie Belle that she should leave her husband now, because if he were to live, he would be extremely violent and moody. Her response was the same as it was with baby John, born just a few months earlier: she went to John’s side and never left it.

John spent four months in the hospital and recuperated far and above what the doctors ever projected. Of the time in the hospital, John says, "I am alive, and not completely goofy-although some would argue." While confined to his bed, John dreamed up as many practical jokes as possible. One morning, to combat "the regular blood sampling of my arms," John placed a rubber arm under the sheets, hoping to get a reaction from the nurses. Another time he put green food coloring in his catheter bag (an action that received plenty of attention). He even drank apple juice out of the urine sample bottle. "Humor," John points out, "was what helped me have a good outlook on life."

He would need all the help he could get. Several months later, after he was released from the hospital, staff infection was discovered on his brain. Some of the damaged skin tissue had been left under the skull. He came through the second set of surgeries, though the doctors had only given him a 50/50 chance of surviving. In a moment of seriousness, he notes, "There is a reason I am still here. I am alive and I don’t believe God would give me a dream without giving me the abilities to achieve the dream." He says this as much to himself as he does to other people he speaks with.

After the Storm
The Crowe family today is not what it was. Everything, especially priorities, has changed in the last 18 years. John points out, "Now God is first, followed by family and business." And, he says with a smile, "family life is unbelievable."

Their children, Kristin and John, now 20 and 17, are "absolute blessings," John states. Young John still has to chew carefully and has come to accept the fact that there are some things he just can’t eat, like popcorn, nuts, etc. But being careful with food is a small inconvenience in comparison to the doctor’s negative predictions.

Every year during the summer months, the Crowes head to their summer home in Hatteras, North Carolina. Time there is family time-only! No television and no work! It is a spiritually refreshing time as they bond together and talk about life.

John himself has come a long way with rehabilitation. He can walk with a cane, but car and plane trips are difficult as fatigue sets in more quickly. And though his speech was affected by the shooting, he still speaks regularly before large crowds. Over all, John points out, "I guess I’m a little goofier now since I was shot."

His business was also affected as a result of the accident. Considerable time was spent in the hospital with both John and his son, and every form of work was put on hold. They have since paid off the medical bills and pursued their business, seeing it increase beyond what it was at the time of the accident. John says, "I can’t do what I used to do in terms of activity level at work," but the difference is on the inside. "There is a sensitivity now that wasn’t there before," he explains. "There isn’t a brashness."

Though John is still full of visions and plans for the future, he has come to primarily cherish his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He is also very quick to give credit where credit is due. He would not be who he is today, he acknowledges, if it weren’t for his wife, Jennie Belle. "She embodies the Christian ethic because she walks it and talks it everyday," he explains. "I watched her go through a birth defect with our son. Then I watched her go through with me. I watched when two doctors told her to leave me and put me in a nursing home. Remember the marriage vow, for sickness and in health? She believed the vows. She is incredible."

Daily life is a continual challenge, but John has come to believe one thing: "I am alive, therefore I know that God isn’t finished with me yet."


Brian Mast is Editor for The Christian Businessman magazine, the premier magazine in equipping Christian businessmen for success – spiritually, personally, and financially. Excerpted with permission. For subscription information, call toll free 888-775-6175.