Afton's connection to UW had begun much earlier. She met her future husband and fellow philanthropist, James W. Crooks, while both were UW students in the late 1940s; he was a climbing and skiing instructor in the 10th Mountain Division as well as a World War II veteran who had experienced combat in the Italian Campaign. Afton earned her B.A. in English in 1947 and began graduate work in English; Jim earned his B.A. in Geography/Geology in 1952. The couple married in 1954 and moved to California, where Afton started her 36-year career with the University of California. Jim, after initial hopes of becoming a field geologist, became a cartographer and a commercial artist. From the late 1930s until 1980, he remained active as a mountaineer and rock climber, with many ascents in Yosemite, the North Cascades, Tetons, Canadian Rockies, and Europe.
Afton’s career in the UC system was pioneering. She worked closely with five University of California presidents in a time when women rarely had opportunities to contribute to university administration. Afton distinguished herself as a problem solver, gifted in finance, at a critical time for the California system’s expansion plans. Upon her retirement in 1990 from the University of California, she was one of the first non-faculty employees to attain emeritus status: Coordinator-Information Practices, Emeritus, Office of the President. The citations spoke to her “many years of service in the Office of the President, particularly in the areas of privacy and access to information, records management, codes of conduct, and conflict of interest.” The nature and scope of these responsibilities indicate the trust placed in her; the recognition of her achievements illuminates the skill and dedication behind her accomplishments. Hers were institutional nerve-center duties during times of considerable social upheaval and institutional tension.
Afton’s career was the subject of an oral history, “On Balance: One Woman’s Life and View of the University of California, 1954-1990,” produced for the Regional Oral History Office at Berkeley [reading copy available at the UW English Department]. This history provided UC with the personal record of an administration insider over nearly four decades of service. “On Balance” emphasizes the coincidence of Afton’s professional success with the development of the women’s movement. From the 1960s onward, increasing numbers of women found new opportunities in higher education. This was a special pleasure to her; two decades earlier she had been discouraged from continuing her Ph.D. studies because of the lack of professional opportunity for women at the postsecondary level. Over time, as the situation changed for women, she became well positioned in the UC administration to be a role model. In the oral history, she notes having “found women who think like me, sort of.” When the UC oral historian asked Afton about the whole of her career, she replied with characteristic candor: “I am very thankful for the tremendous variety of things I was assigned to. In all my associations with people throughout the university, I don’t know anybody who had the variety I had. Now, that’s chance ... but part of it is not chance. Part of it is that you have to prove yourself. And so, if there’s a job to be done, somebody will think about you.”
Afton began her UW philanthropy to honor the great influence of her father upon her life. Afton and Jim began annual gifts to the UW English Department by establishing the John Kimball Woolley undergraduate scholarship in 1967. “Your love of books and education has always influenced me greatly,” she wrote to her father, “and in turn, my love for them is one of the greatest joys I have in my life.” In developing the scholarship, Afton acknowledged her English degree for making her “learn to think and to analyze and to write,” and her literature courses for providing “a great deal of history and social insight.” For the remainder of his life, Mr. Woolley received annual letters from the grateful department and the scholarship winners, whose appreciation often included detailed accounts of their interests and goals. Since his death, Afton has corresponded with and met many of the awardees.
Afton has frequently reexamined the needs that her charitable gifts have addressed. Keeping up with rising rates of tuition, she has continued to make annual gifts to the Woolley scholarship, fully endowing it in 1996. In 2000, she established the Afton Woolley Crooks Endowed Fund to support doctoral students in literature or a related disciplinary field. In addition, in honor of her beloved husband, she established the Afton Woolley Crooks and James William Crooks Endowed Scholarship in Geological Sciences, a fund supporting undergraduate students, with preference to those studying geomorphol-ogy. The endowment document expresses gratitude to the teaching of J. Hoover Mackin, who for many years was an outstanding UW professor of Geology. Through the English and Geology endowments, Afton has assured opportunities for generations of students, who will be fostered not merely financially but by her example as they learn about her, her father, and her husband. Finally, Afton has planned a UW bequest, which has brought her total giving to UW Laureate status. Her name will be enshrined in Suzzallo Library as a UW Laureate—permanent recognition for the strength of her philanthropy to the University of Washington.