‘Icon in our industry’: Marcia Sears, former editor and owner of the Shelby County Reporter, dies at 86
By GINNY COOPER/Staff Writer
Marcia Sears, former owner and editor of the Shelby County Reporter and first female president of the Alabama Press Association, passed away on April 13 at the age of 86. Sears influenced a generation of journalists and is remembered by many as a force of nature.
“She was definitely an icon in our industry, very respected by editors and publishers, and known in her community as the force behind a lot of civic projects,” said Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association.
Marcia Sears and her late husband, Ralph Westgate Sears, bought the Shelby County Reporter in 1967 shortly after they purchased WBYE Radio in Calera. The family served at the helm of the Reporter through the ’60s and ’70s, during which time they also purchased the Childersburg Star and the Coosa Press. They sold the Reporter and their other news operations in 1984.
During her tenure as the Reporter’s editor, Marcia Sears kept the focus on news directly related to Shelby County. “The responsibility of weekly newspapers is really serious in small communities. It’s very important to have a local paper,” Sears said in an October 2013 celebrating the Reporter’s 170th anniversary.
During their tenure, the Sears family established the standard for the newspaper for decades to come.
“Mrs. Sears set the benchmark for community newspapering in Central Alabama. She understood and accepted the responsibilities that come with leading a public institution,” current Shelby County Reporter President and Publisher Tim Prince said. “Those of us now responsible for leading this newspaper are building upon the foundation of community service and solid journalism built by Mrs. Sears. We will miss her, as will our community.”
Sears’ impact is also seen in the many journalists who trained under her.
“Marcia Sears is the person who turned my career to journalism. I owe that to her,” David Moore, publisher of Good Life magazine in Marshall and Cullman counties, said. Moore said he remembers selling his very first article to Sears for $15.
A few years after buying the article, Sears hired Moore as a staff writer.
“She gave me a notepad and camera and kicked me out the back door and said, ‘go find a story,’” Moore said.
“She was a newspaper woman and proud of it,” added Moore, who also described Sears as a mentor. “I considered Marcia Sears to be a mentor, and I don’t have a long list of those people.”
She is survived by her sister, Joan Mockett Casari; three children, Steven and Patsy Sweeney Sears, Sally and Richard Belcher, Randie and David Rosenberg; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
“She always took the stairs if the elevator wasn’t fast enough, which it never was,” Sears’ daughter, Sally Belcher said. Belcher described her mother as “very active.”
Just this past summer, Sears, 86, drove solo from Minnesota to Alabama, despite concerns from her family.
“She was a very determined woman,” Rosenberg said.
Travel was important to Sears and her husband, and together with their three children they traversed the country and the world.
For two summers in a row, Sears traveled to a small mountain village in Mexico with her children in tow, where Sears studied the language.
Sears then taught Spanish at the University of Montevallo, where she “tried valiantly to teach a Southern boy how to not speak in a drawl,” Montevallo attorney, and Sears’ former student, Butch Ellis said.
Ellis worked with Sears for more than 50 years in many different capacities following his graduation from the university, and describes Sears as a “real asset to the community” who had a “lot of class and sophistication.”
Sears also traveled extensively with Rosenberg, and the two visited Argentina, Brazil, Belize and England among others.
Though Sears loved adventure, built an extremely successful career and worked with a variety of charities including the Birmingham Children’s Aid Society and the Cahaba Council of the Girl Scouts of America, her family was always at the forefront of her thoughts.
Rosenberg describes how her mother once dropped everything to drive from Montevallo to Richmond, Va., when she had surgery after a riding accident.
“She thought nothing of just doing what had to be done,” Rosenberg said. “She was really the best sort of mom that one could have.”
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