Cindy Crawford: A model parent

Model Cindy Crawford

Cindy Crawford called the shots in her 1991 MTV series "House of Style." She STILL calls the shots - and still looks great - all these years later. Tracy Smith has a Sunday Profile:

If you want to feel inadequate (or maybe just short), try walking next to Cindy Crawford.

She still has everything that made her a supermodel, but that famous face is now a brand.

In the celebrity endorsement world, Cindy Crawford is a major player: there's a deal with Omega watches; a home furnishings line at JCPenney; and if you've ever had insomnia, you've probably seen her infomercial.

Of course, she still does that modeling thing: But for the multi-millionaire/pitchwoman/wife/mother of two, there isn't a lot of down time.

"When my kids were little, if they saw me getting my hair and makeup done, they would start crying because they knew that that meant that I was leaving the house!" she laughed.

"Did that kill you?" Smith asked.

"Are you kidding? When my kids were little, going to work was a vacation, right?" she replied. "I would go to a shoot at 9:00 and I would sit in the hair and makeup chair and I would be like, 'Ahhhhh.' It was like a spa day for me!"

And then there's St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, where we met Crawford last fall, shooting ads as the face of the latest St. Jude fundraising campaign.

But this is more than just a stop on the celebrity PR tour: in a way, Cindy Crawford is herself a survivor.

Born in decidedly un-glamorous Dekalb, Ill., Cynthia Ann was the second of four children in the Crawford family: three girls and a boy, Jeff. When she was in grade school, her brother was diagnosed with leukemia. Jeff fought for his life for more than a year, but the little boy seemed to know his days were numbered.

"My mother came in one time and she saw him sitting at his little table, he was three years old, you know, with his hands crossed," Crawford recalled. "And she's like, 'What are you doing?' And he said, 'I'm praying.' And she said, 'Well, what are you praying for?' And he said, 'So that when I die, you'll be okay.'"

Jeff died just before his fourth birthday.

Big sister Cindy never got a chance to say goodbye: "I remember my parents, them walking in without my brother into my grandparents' house, and no one had to say anything. It was just that sound of everyone - you know, just like guttural, of like, you know, my mother sobbing, and my grandmother and my grandfather, but, you know, surrounded by family. And I don't know how you get through it, but you do, and you go on. And hopefully you can, you know, make it better for other families."

Life went on, but it wasn't easy.

"I think when I was younger, after he died, I think that we - my two sisters and I - we knew that my dad really wanted a son. He was the fourth child, and I think that after he died, we all kind of felt like we had to make up for this brother," Crawford said. "We didn't want to give our parents any more headaches or trouble."

In time, her family fractured. Crawford's father ended up leaving, when she was a freshman in high school.

"You lost contact with him for a while?' Smith asked.

"I never really lost contact with him," Crawford said. "There's been times where I haven't really been in a place where I wanted him in my life, but I always - it's not like I didn't know how to get a hold of him. It's just that there were times where it was better that he and I did not . . . it was really hard for me when he left my mother. So I was mad at him. And then I think especially for a teenage girl, that's hard. In some ways, that really affects your relationship with men further on, because maybe you don't trust as much."

She threw herself into her studies, graduating as valedictorian . . . and the top schools came knocking.

"I went to Northwestern on a chemical engineering scholarship, which is funny 'cause I'm not even sure what a chemical engineer does to this day," she laughed. "But because I had good grades in high school, I was accepted to Northwestern on an academic scholarship, but I had to go into engineering 'cause they needed girls in engineering. So it was pretty funny."

She dropped out after one term to give modeling a try, but didn't hit it big overnight.

"The first agency was like, 'I don't know, you have a big mole on your face.' I said, 'Really!!?' " Crawford laughed. "But they thought I should get my mole removed."