Submitted by Deborah on Fri, 07/20/2018

Portrait of Crawford in 2017
Tom Crawford giving an oral history interview at the Russell Library in August 2017 

I met Tom Crawford on the third-floor landing of the Hull Street Parking Deck early one morning late last August. We had arrived almost simultaneously for our scheduled interview, and Tom had paused at the landing to knot his burgundy, patterned necktie. We walked together up the slope to Russell Special Collections Libraries building where we spent the remainder of the morning and early afternoon discussing history, politics, and the business of covering politics.

Tom Crawford, Dean of the State Capitol Press Corps, died Wednesday morning after waging a decades-long battle against cancer. A quick wit and, according to all accounts, an even quicker typist, Tom’s journalism career actually began here in Athens. A 1968 graduate of Clarkston High School, he had opted for UGA over Georgia Tech and majored in journalism. He worked at the student-led Red & Black, rising to rank of sports editor. Tom graduated with honors in 1972 and began his professional career as a beat reporter at the Alabama state capitol for the Montgomery Advertiser.

Crawford with Johnny Isakson
Crawford interviewing Johnny Isakson circa 1974

From 1972 to 1983, Tom worked at the Advertiser, Atlanta ConstitutionMarietta Daily Journal, and Atlanta Journal reporting on local, county, and state politics. He became a fixture on the campaign trail and under the Georgia Gold Dome during those hurly-burly legislative sessions of the 1970s and early 1980s. Although it surely did not seem so at the time, Tom was witnessing what one of his colleagues, the late David Nordan, dubbed the end of “southern gothic” politics in the state. Indeed, Tom chronicled the relatively swift, if excruciatingly overdue, modernization of Georgia’s political system.

Promotional image for an open meeting Crawford held with the public while working for the Atlanta Journal

Tom stepped away from reporting in 1983 and assumed an accounts executive position at Pringle Dixon Pringle, a full-service public relations agency in Atlanta. From writing company newsletters and corporate speeches to coordinating press conferences and media interviews, the job proved a perfect fit for someone with Tom’s skill set.

He also dabbled in speechwriting during the 1980s and 1990s. One supposes that after hearing and reporting on enough speeches delivered by others on the stump and from the House and Senate wells that Tom figured he would try his hand at crafting his own for public consumption.

 

Photo of Crawford with journalist colleague
Crawford and a colleague at the Capitol

Already a print media veteran, Crawford blazed a trail for online journalists and bloggers in the state when he launched Capitol Impact­—now known as Georgia Report—in 2000. Like countless others, I first encountered Tom through his weekly columns that appeared in more than 35 newspapers across the state. Another equally important aspect of the Georgia Report was its subscription service targeted at the lawyers, lobbyists, and myriad other political insiders who relied on Tom’s timely reporting and insightful analysis.

 

 

 

 

Indeed, those same qualities convinced me to send Tom an email last August requesting an interview with him for the Russell Library’s Two-Party Georgia Oral History Project. The reply I received was Tom Crawford distilled, and it is worth quoting in full.
 

“That’s an interesting proposal you have passed along. I’m curious: why would you want to interview me? I’m just an obscure journalist who has written on occasion about state government and politics. Few people know who I am; most who meet me face-to-face assume that I’m [Atlanta Journal-Constitution lead writer] Jim Galloway (which, I can assure you, I’m not).

I should point out that your title for this effort, ‘Two-Party Georgia,’ is a bit of a misnomer. Georgia is and always has been a one-party state. It was formerly a one-party state controlled by Democrats and is now a one-party state controlled by Republicans. Same difference, as far as I can see.

I’d be happy to assist in this project, although I’m not sure how much I could add.”

 
Needless to say, Tom Crawford contributed mightily to our understanding of Georgia politics over the years. Not only did Tom sit for an oral history interview, but he also donated his papers to the Russell Library. Those papers, which include columns from every stage of his journalistic career as well as his reporter’s notebooks, are currently being processed. His collection awaits seasoned researchers seeking Tom’s observations on countless, hot-button political topics as well as eager students and budding journalists discovering Tom Crawford for the very first time.   Tom Crawford’s Two-Party Georgia interview can be viewed on the Russell Library Oral History Program’s YouTube page .

 

Ashton Ellett

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