Crenshaw, Grady

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CRENSHAW, Grady Walton

Age 96, died of congestive heart failure on October 16, 2021, at Sunrise of Decatur assisted living facility, where he had lived since 2018.

A retired newspaper editor, World War II veteran and devout Ole Miss sports fan, he survived a bout of Covid-19 in August and then resumed his daily routine of smoking cigars, solving crossword puzzles in ink, watching sports and British mysteries, and following the stock market until days before his death.

He was born April 11, 1925, in Lisman, Alabama, the middle son of Henry Grady Crenshaw and Eunice Hudson Crenshaw. Growing up in a rural Alabama sawmill community meant his landscape of boyhood memories was filled with fishing holes and farmhouses, mourning doves and mules, white-washed tree trunks and broom-swept dirt front yards.

After his 28-year-old father died of pneumonia, Grady moved with his mother and two brothers to Meridian, Mississippi. His widowed mother fed her boys biscuits, molasses and grits and worked at a mill, where she inspected socks for $12 a week. They gathered coal that had fallen from passing trains to help heat their home.

Grady got his first job at 10, delivering 50-pound blocks of ice door-to-door. When his older brother bought him a bike, Grady got a paper route delivering the Meridian Star to earn more money for the family. Always quiet and shy, he found happiness in books and pulp magazines, cowboy movies and sports.

He was so determined to join the local sandlot baseball team that he accepted the dreaded catcher's position that nobody wanted, fashioned his own chest protector from discarded pool table felt, and bought a mitt with lunch money he had saved for a year, which upset his mother to learn since he was already so skinny.

Stories of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and the Key brothers' endurance flying exploits triggered his love of newspapers and of aviation.

After he graduated from Meridian High School in 1943, he applied to the Army Air Forces and was accepted as an air cadet candidate. His education included classes at Meridian Junior College, the University of Southern Mississippi and Elon College. He completed additional training in Texas, earned his bombardier wings and lieutenant bars in 1945 and was in B-29 gunnery school in Fort Myers, Florida, when World War II ended.

Returning to Meridian, he was hired as a reporter at the Meridian Star, despite having fibbed about his ability to type. At the paper, he met proofreader Bessie Walters McCarver, who introduced him to her fetching daughter Zada. Zada's father Fred McCarver was a newspaper linotype operator, and her uncle Carl Walters was a noted sports journalist who would go on to mentor Grady.

Grady and Zada were married on October 10, 1948, and began their life together in Tupelo, where Grady had taken a sports editor and reporter job at the Tupelo Daily Journal. They then returned to Meridian, where he covered the Star's tedious city hall beat.

He was in the active Air Force Reserve in 1950 when he was recalled to duty during the Korean War. He was sent first to Wiesbaden, Germany, and then to Oslo, Norway. While there he served as public information officer for Allied Air Forces Northern Europe, coordinated visits from Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery, and attained the rank of captain. His time in Norway with his young family remained a favorite period of his life and survives in the souvenirs he treasured.

His overseas experiences included having his 1947 Buick Roadmaster break down on the German autobahn, attending the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, visiting the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, taking in a Folies Bergère show in Paris and witnessing Queen Elizabeth's coronation rehearsal in London. Later, as a foreign news editor, he was sent on a newspaper tour to Panama, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil, where he particularly enjoyed the bikini-filled sights of Ipanema Beach.

In the late 1950s he moved with his growing family to Jackson, Mississippi, where he worked at the Jackson State Times as a wire editor and then at the competing Jackson Daily News. In the mid-60s, the family relocated to Memphis, where he joined the Commercial Appeal as a copy editor before being promoted to foreign news editor, assistant news editor, news editor and finally assistant managing editor. After working the 3 PM to midnight shift for years, he retired in 1988.

His journalism career progressed from tracking down a small-time bootlegger and reporting on a hound dog stuck in a drainage ditch to writing an insightful analysis of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and managing manic newsrooms, where he was respected as the calm at the center of the storm. His career encompassed the Civil Rights movement and the deaths of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy and Elvis Presley. The biggest story he handled was President Kennedy's 1963 assassination, which came over the wire as a news flash while his senior editors were at lunch. He recalled how he "shooed the excited staffers out of the way, edited the story, remade page one, broke out the boxcar headline type and got the edition out on time." He was a classic, old-school newspaperman, a card-carrying guild member and lifelong hunt-and-peck typist who took his pica pole with him when he retired.

In 1994, he and Zada moved to Oxford, Mississippi, to return to small-town life and be close to his beloved Ole Miss Rebels. Zada died there in 2002. Their son Gary died in Memphis in 1974. Grady lived on his own until shortly before his 93rd birthday, when he moved to Atlanta to be near his family.

A quick-witted Southern gentleman who was ever handsome in his seersucker blazer, Grady continued to follow the news, express his concern for preserving nature, and root for the Braves and the Rebs. He delighted family and friends with his FaceTime calls, his sweet, emoji-filled texts and his habit of spontaneously bursting into song when he was feeling particularly joyous.

Determined to never be a burden, he composed a short version of his own obit and a longer, beautifully written memoir for his survivors. Although he deserves a contributing byline here, he should not be held accountable for any copy-editing errors. No typo or garbled grammar would have ever made it past him.

He loved a strong cup of coffee with his morning paper, hummingbirds and cardinals, magnolia and azalea trees, Big Band music, his vegetable garden, and his succession of family dogs and cars (he could still rattle off a list of every car he'd owned, including his beloved 1952 Jaguar Mark VII). He loved James Thurber and Ernest Hemingway, butter pecan ice cream, chocolate pie, gin and tonics, airplanes, oyster po' boys, "The Curse of Oak Island" and The Masters golf tournament, which often coincided with his April birthday weekend.

Most of all, he loved his family, who will miss him dearly. He was unfailingly smart, funny, generous and gracious, and we simply adored him.

He left us with a love of words, an appreciation of nature's beauty, an empathy for those less fortunate, and a wealth of wonderful stories and classic Grady-isms.

We are profoundly grateful for the care he received from Agape Hospice and from Sunrise of Decatur, where many staff members confided to us that he was their favorite.

He was preceded in death by his father, Henry Grady Crenshaw; his mother, Eunice Hudson Crenshaw; his brothers, Dallis Woodrow Crenshaw and Henry Carlton Crenshaw; his wife, Zada Evelyn Lee McCarver Crenshaw; and his son, Gary Alan Crenshaw.

He is survived by his daughters Lisa Crenshaw of Wichita, Kansas; Holly Crenshaw (and daughter-in-law Jen Christensen) and Celia Pope (and son-in-law Bailey Pope), of Atlanta, Georgia; and by his granddaughters Claire Pope (and her partner, Evan Kananack) and Carly Pope of Los Angeles, California.

A private memorial service will be held later. Condolences may be submitted online at www.asturner.com.

As a longtime member of The Nature Conservancy, The Wilderness Society and the World Wildlife Fund, he would be honored by contributions made to those organizations in his memory. Another fitting tribute would be to please subscribe to your local daily newspaper.