Remembering Tom Crawford: Longtime political journalist was “a great raconteur and a walking encyclopedia”

Crawford, who covered Georgia politics for more than three decades, died of complications from cancer on July 18

Tom Crawford
Tom Crawford

Photograph courtesy of Lynn Todd-Crawford

Tom Crawford’s editors used a vivid verb to describe how he worked. They said, admiringly, that he “vomited a story,” meaning he was a fast writer who never blew a deadline.

“As a writer, Tom was the ultimate utility infielder,” says Charlie Hayslett, who worked with Crawford at the Atlanta Journal. “Most folks I’ve known have been good at one or two things but struggled with others. Tom could do it all—straight news, in-depth, complicated analysis, really well-argued opinion pieces, short stuff, long stuff. Didn’t matter. Tom did it all, and really, really fast and really, really well.”

The old-school newspaperman who found innovative ways to cover Georgia politics for more than three decades died of complications from cancer on July 18 at age 67. He was editor of the Georgia Report, dean of the State Capitol press corps, and a columnist who appeared regularly in 35 newspapers across the state. In May, he posted a final note to Georgia Report, saying that he was “in the final stages of cancer and under home hospice care.”

“I appreciate the support of all our readers. It has been quite a ride. Thank you all very much,” he wrote.

“Editing Tom was the easiest gig in journalism,” says Susan Percy, editor at large for Georgia Trend. “The depth and breadth of his knowledge and understanding of Georgia politics was jaw-dropping. He wrote with grace, clarity, and humor.”

Crawford, an Atlanta native and graduate of the University of Georgia, worked for the Montgomery Advertiser, the Marietta Daily Journal, the Atlanta Journal, and Georgia Trend. Long before internet-based journalism outlets were ubiquitous, he created the Georgia Report in the late 1990s, which quickly became an indispensable insider’s guide to the inner machinations under the Gold Dome. Year after year, Crawford, a member of Mensa International, trained his bemused, gimlet-eyed gaze on the General Assembly. They all are rascals on both sides, his winking dispatches seemed to say. Now here is what they are up to this week.

“Tom took the time to build the relationships, understand the issues and the players in order to use his considerable writing skills in communicating what was actually happening in a story,” says Doug Teper, a former state representative.

Crawford covered three gubernatorial administrations, the tumultuous Republican takeover of state government after a century of Democratic rule, and an array of scandals, skullduggery, and shenanigans.

Journalist and former Atlanta magazine editor Doug Monroe worked and bantered with Crawford at four publications: “Whenever I would say something like, ‘Who was that state senator who was convicted of trying to smuggle ‘funny cigars’ into the state to finance his campaign?’ Without a microsecond’s hesitation, Tom said, ‘Roscoe Emory Dean Jr.’ He then proceeded to recall pranks other senators had played on Dean. Tom didn’t have to look up anything. It was permanently available in his supercomputer of a brain.”

Crawford’s column also brought the news to readers living far afield from Atlanta.

“The state legislature and governor’s office have a direct effect on our lives, but weekly papers in small towns just don’t have the resources to send someone to cover state government, especially year-round,” says Billy Chism, who was editor of the White County News, one of Crawford’s outlets.

Crawford was certainly a skeptical observer, but not a cynic. “He was a true gentleman, but never afraid to speak the truth,” Chism says, “whether it was to the governor or an influential state senator or state representative. He also spoke up for the little guy—the common man and woman—the people who didn’t have lobbyists working on their behalf.”

When not beating a deadline, Crawford often could be found holding court at Manuel’s Tavern. “Tom was a great raconteur, a walking encyclopedia, and an unrepentant punster,” Percy says with a smile. “A stellar journalist and a first-rate human being.”

Friends have planned a public, ink-stained wake at 6 p.m. on the evening of July 31 at Manuel’s. In a Tuesday column, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jim Galloway encouraged anyone who would like to say a few words to send him an email.