WILLOWS — Tim Crews, the longtime newspaperman for the Sacramento Valley Mirror, dedicated his life to uncovering the truth.
He valued the Glenn County community, the First Amendment and was never afraid to go after established figures.
Crews died Thursday at Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding. He was 77 years old. He had been in the hospital since September after suffering from cellulitis, pneumonia and a stroke.
Crews was often described as a true old-school journalist — a watchdog in the community. He was born in Aberdeen, Washington and helped take pictures for the local newspaper. He went on to spend three years in the Marine Corps. He previously worked for a logging company and a steel mill before circling back to being a journalist.
He had several stops working at papers from Colorado to Texas. He was then hired to work at the Willows Journal. But when that ended, he started the Sacramento Valley Mirror in 1991.
“He didn’t back down. He was very dedicated to his work,” said Larry Judkins, copy editor of the Sacramento Valley Mirror.
Judkins had worked alongside Crews for 26 years.
“His biggest priority was his newspaper. It was basically his baby,” Judkins said. “Along with (his wife) Donna Settle — those were the most important things in his life.”
Settle is the managing editor of the Sacramento Valley Mirror.
Like a journalism Santa Claus, he’d be seen around town on assignment donning red suspenders, a Sacramento Valley Mirror shirt with the California Penal Code printed on it. His white, bushy beard upon his weather, rosy face.
He’d cover crime but also covered the community events like the Glenn County Fair or the Junior Livestock Auction. He wouldn’t charge for obituaries either.
Judkins said Crews was driven to give the community a good newspaper and something that people could depend on for information.
“That’s pretty much what he did,” Judkins said.
Larry Jones spent over 40 years with the Glenn County Sheriff’s Office, his last decade serving as the sheriff, got to know Crews very well.
Jones described Crews as an “enigma.”
“He could be very hard to understand at times. He was very intelligent and a deep thinker. I think he saw things in people that maybe others missed,” Jones said. “He cared deeply for his community and for Glenn County.”
Crews wasn’t afraid to put government officials in uncomfortable situations. He never shied away from asking tough questions when necessary and always remained persistent.
“He could be difficult to deal with. A lot of guys didn’t want to take the time to deal with him. I didn’t mind getting a phone call from Tim,” Jones said. “His public records request were very time consuming at times and labor intensive for an already overworked and underpaid staff. But he didn’t hesitate to use that if he had to.”
In 2000, Crews was actually jailed for five days after refusing to reveal anonymous sources in a case about local officers stealing a firearm. Crews’ contempt-of-court sentence was covered in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Associated Press.
“I’m going to be more aggressive. For me to simply cough up these sources would be to weaken the shield (law), to make a complete mockery of it,” Crews was quoted in a Red Bluff Daily News article published Feb. 24, 2000.
Jones said when Crews was younger he was a “one-man show.” He was the publisher, editor, reporter and photographer of the paper.
“He would be out late at night getting a story, then he’d be delivering papers at daylight,” Jones recalled. “He would never sleep to get that newspaper out. It was his life.”
Crews would draw criticism from the community for sometimes publishing graphic photos on the front page. Jones said that would “infuriate people.” Crews’ logic was if putting the death of a young person in a traffic accident could possibly make people be more careful then it was warranted.
“He felt deeply that if he did something like that it’d wake someone up,” Jones said.
Jones recalled Crews comparing himself to Dutton Peabody, a tenacious, newspaper reporter in the 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
“He’d say ‘you watch that movie, that’s me,’” Jones said.
The Sacramento Valley Mirror never shifted its priority to online. The only online presence the newspaper has is a Facebook page that Judkins manages.
“He was very anti-technology for some reason. He was born in the wrong age. He should have been born in the 19th century,” Judkins said. “He disliked technology. He hated the internet and he despised social media.”
However, if someone felt they had no one to turn to, authorities or organizations, they would go to Crews and he’d hear them out.
“If somebody felt they were being wronged in some manner in the community and they were sincere about it, he’d spend hours listening to their story and try to confirm it,” Jones said. “If he felt it was worth it, he’d take it to the nth degree. He’d get his teeth into something and wouldn’t let it go.”
Settle said Saturday that former interns had been reaching out to share memories and kind words of Crews.
“He’d tell me I will probably die at my desk,” Jones said. “He said ‘I’m never going to quit, they’ll have to carry me out.’ He meant that.”