It was time to tap the maple trees this spring, and Tom Crosby was weakened by chemotherapy. But nothing could keep him away from those 70 trees oozing with luscious sap. “It was an activity, a rite of spring, that connected him to the land,” said his oldest son, Stewart. “He liked the purpose of it.”
Crosby was the son of two great Minnesota milling families, the Pillsburys and Crosbys, and he built a career as a respected real estate attorney, civic leader and, more recently, as mayor of Medina, his longtime hometown. Yet he equally relished the physical labor of baling hay and working on the hobby farm with his wife, Ellie.
He would put his maple syrup recipe up against anyone’s. “Must’ve been 10 or 12 years ago, he went to the activities building at the State Fair and looked at all of the competitors,” said Stewart Crosby, of St. Louis Park. “He said, ‘I can compete with these guys.’ ”
Crosby died Sunday at age 74 of pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed just three months ago. The State Fair blue ribbon eluded him, but he proudly tapped out a couple of third-place finishes. He also enjoyed an annual syrup competition with Medina public works director Steve Scherer.
In his work and civic life, Crosby was said to bring equal focus and verve. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1965 and began a 43-year career at Faegre & Benson (now Faegre Baker Daniels). In 1978, he oversaw one of the nation’s largest real estate deals, when Dayton Hudson sold nine of its regional shopping centers, including the four “Dales” in the Twin Cities area. The deal was worth $305 million, or about $1 billion in current dollars.
Crosby also had a hand in several major downtown Minneapolis projects, including the purchase and sale of IDS Center, as well as development of the new Orchestra Hall and securing private development rights around the Metrodome.
Following a tradition of public service set by his parents and grandparents, Crosby served on more than a dozen corporate boards and nonprofit foundations. He was a member of the Minnesota Orchestra board for 31 years. This fall he was re-elected to his third term as mayor of Medina with 66 percent of the vote. He donated his mayoral salary to a city internship program. He stepped down April 16 because of his illness.
“We’re all influenced by our upbringing,” said Jim Stephenson, an attorney at Faegre Baker Daniels who worked with Crosby for more than four decades. “Whatever that was, it resulted in this very finely honed sense of responsibility to be active and constructive.”
His decisionmaking style was organized and focused, Stephenson said. He was known to send a four-paragraph letter, each paragraph one sentence long.
“He was very forthright, matter-of-fact and logical,” Stephenson said. “Tom was not one to wring his hands or wonder about an injustice or unfairness of a situation or spend time figuring out the trouble that we or the client got in. His focus was on, ‘Where do we go from here?’ ”
Crosby was working as a private practice attorney until a few weeks ago, and was baling hay last fall and cross-country skiing this winter.
For most of his life, Crosby was out the door by 5:30 a.m. to ride the bus to downtown Minneapolis. Unless he was traveling, he made it back to the farm and his maple trees by 6 p.m. for dinner with his family.
In addition to his wife and older son, Crosby is survived by sons Brewster Crosby, of Portland, Ore., and Grant Crosby, of Anchorage; daughter Brooke Reed, of Greenville, S.C., and nine grandchildren. Services will be held at 4 p.m. June 11 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
Editor’s note: The author of this story is not related to the family.