John Crowley’s passion for entrepreneurship and sense of purpose comes from his upbringing. “My grandfather, John, who was first-generation, worked with his hands, spent 25 or 30 years working in a rubber factory in New Jersey, and my grandmother Catherine worked as a seamstress. She was actually quite sick, and they both died in their fifties. From there, we’re pretty much all cops on my other side. My dad, my dad’s older brother, my uncle Jim, my cousin Jim is still a cop in Baltimore, his daughter Laura married a cop in New York . . there are a lot of Irish cops in the family.
“My dad died when I was seven and, just like our kids being diagnosed, that wasn’t the right time, that’s not supposed to happen. But I think your happiness in life is largely dependent on how you deal with adversity.
“For me, experiences growing up certainly shaped me, and I think shaped my perspectives on life – what’s important, what to do and who to believe, the basics of right and wrong. It doesn’t mean you always do what’s right, but at least you have that sense that there’s something bigger than you. I have a sense of service and sacrifice, which was extra special to me too because my dad was a cop and a marine. You get that sense of service and patriotism and sacrifice that was ingrained without him ever saying it. And that’s true, I think, broadly, of people in the Irish community. Look at the names of the heroes who died on September 11th, the firefighters and the cops. There was a pretty outsized number of Irish names there, and that’s not by accident.”
John’s strong work ethic and sense of purpose are what he called upon to put himself through business school and develop his professional career. He earned a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, a JD from the University of Notre Dame Law School and an MBA from Harvard. He also served in the U.S. Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer, and finished a six-month tour of duty at the Center for Naval Intelligence in Virginia in 2007.
Both John and Aileen credit their Irish heritage with their focus on the importance of family and their indomitable sense of humor.
Aileen’s ancestors emigrated from County Cork, as did John’s, and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania. “My parents were both born and raised there. I knew my great-grandmother, her name was McCray, and she had 12 children, and from those children we have a family reunion every year. It’s been going on for about fifty years in Scranton, where there’s a very large Irish population,” says Aileen, whose father is Martin Holleran, a prominent businessman who has been featured on Irish America’s Business 100 list.
“My father worked for General Electric, and we moved about every two years all up and down the East Coast. We were always the new kids in town but I knew I had my family around. The one thing we’d always look forward to was the family reunions, and weddings, and our cousins’ house – we have a very large extended family that made those moves a little easier.” says Aileen. She thinks that her Irish heritage particularly manifested itself in “having very close family members, people you can lean on. A lot of people don’t have that. More than half the people in the theater last night [for a screening of Extraordinary Measures] were our relatives who came from as far as four hours away just to spend two hours with us in the theater.”
“Laughter, too, that’s one thing you learn in a big Irish family – you laugh a lot at each other, but also at yourself,” says John.
When I meet Megan, she’s reading on her Amazon Kindle and getting ready for her party. She and her father have a clearly well-developed routine of banter, characterized by a story that he tells me. “I had prepped Megan that there was a tough scene [in the movie] that represented when she was a little girl and almost died,” says John. “I was sitting next to her in the theater and got a little teary watching that again, and I watched Megan to make sure she wasn’t upset. I leaned over to her and I said, ‘Megan, you play a much better sick and dying little girl than Meredith does,’ and she just looked at me and kind of dismissively waved me off and said, ‘Dad, don’t start with your little stories throughout the movie!’”
Seeing this family interact, you begin to understand what they mean by “average”: They tease each other, they joke around, they have birthdays and family outings and do homework and play games. Their journey is remarkable, but it is the details of normal day-to-day life that are the ultimate reward: the moments that are taken so much for granted in many lives.
“They treat each other like regular brothers and sisters,” says Aileen. “That [opening] scene of John Jr. in the movie stealing Megan’s Barbie doll and running around with it was a true story. Though actually, really, he took the Barbie doll’s clothes off and Megan made him re-dress all the Barbie dolls and told him what outfits to put on, when he was eight or nine years old. They teased him mercilessly all night. He and his sister fight all the time, and last night, I was yelling at him for the fifth time to go to bed and I saw him run upstairs to his brother’s room, give him a kiss and run out. They both take care of Patrick together. I think that’s normal for a lot of kids.”
While the Crowleys’ journey is incredible and unique, the lessons that they have learned from it are universal. “Extraordinary Measures isn’t just a movie for parents of special needs kids,” says John. “It’s really about family, faith, science, hope, inspiration. These are basic themes in life in the sense that one person, one family, one group acting together can sometimes succeed and change the course of how things were supposed to be.”