- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

MONTEVALLO, Ala. (AP) - Back in the 1970s when Marcia Sears was editor of the Shelby County Reporter, she went to the Birmingham Airport to pick up her visiting teenage niece, Connie Reddicliffe. The niece arrived and Sears was nowhere to be found. Connie wandered around the airport and found Sears at a pay phone.

Sears was talking on the telephone, scribbling in a notebook. When she got off the phone, she announced to her niece that the entire Wilsonville City Council had resigned and they needed to go do interviews.

“She was just indefatigable - she did not let something go uncovered if she thought it was important,” said her daughter, Sally Belcher, who later became a reporter for a TV station in Atlanta.

Sears was a news woman and a mentor. The niece worked for her at the newspaper and later became a reporter at a newspaper in Dallas.

Sears died on April 13. She was 86. She was the first female president of the Alabama Press Association, which honored her with a lifetime achievement award in 2003.

Her husband, Ralph, died in 1996. He was mayor of Montevallo for 24 years.

Together they owned WBYE Radio in Calera, then bought the Shelby County Reporter in 1967, and later the Childersburg Star and the Coosa Press. They sold their news organizations in 1984.

Sears was fiercely independent, and drove alone from Minnesota to Alabama last summer despite the concerns of her children. She often spent summers at the cabin her grandfather built on Pelican Lake in Minnesota.

As first lady of Montevallo, Sears was omnipresent.

“She was the guiding force in a lot of the activities of the town,” said Don Hughes, former city manager of Montevallo.

“She said, ‘You have to have something in remembrance of people.’ She wanted the town to remain a tree city. Over 14 years, I planted 38 dogwood trees to honor people who needed recognition. She was extremely intelligent and had extreme foresight.”

She had ideas for city parks.

When the city acquired a dairy farm across Shoal Creek to add to Orr Park, Sears insisted on an open-air park with trails that were welcoming to women walking alone.

“She wanted visibility,” Hughes said. “We have trails through dense brushy areas where you lose visibility. She wanted a trail where someone could walk alone and feel safe. I pursued those good ideas she came up with.”

Hughes said that the Sears family made sure that everyone involved in Montevallo government abided by the state Sunshine Law that requires government meetings to be open to the public and media.

“Ralph was very strict about the access of meetings to news media,” Hughes said. “The paper printed what was true and correct. She just had the facts. That had a bearing on good county government. They were first-class people.”

Sears loved to travel. She wanted to see every major waterfall in the world and she saw the major ones, including Victoria Falls in Africa, Belcher said.

She and her husband went to Mongolia, Russia, Africa, China and South America. She spent an extended period of time living in Mexico, learning Spanish, then taught Spanish at the University of Montevallo. They traveled to Alaska in 1959. “They were in Alaska when it was going from a territory to a state,” Belcher said. “It was a territory when they took off and a state when they landed. The pilot announced it on the flight and they all cheered.”

Once, the Sears family, including children Steve, Sally and Randie, drove to the Panama Canal in a Chevrolet station wagon in the early 1960s.

“The road wasn’t paved,” Belcher said. “We had to stop several times to change a tire.”

Belcher and her husband, Richard, worked for competing Atlanta TV stations and covered the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial in Los Angeles. Sears went out to visit them and got caught up in the trial.

“Mom would go down to the courthouse every morning,” Belcher said. “She wrote a story about it for the Shelby County Reporter, about being part of the circus.”

Sears was full of energy, and serious about words.

“She had that energy when she was correcting your grammar,” Belcher said. “Her standards were so high. She was so loving about them.”

At the time of her death, Sears was using her lifetime achievement plaque as a doorstop for her finicky bathroom door. The daughters believe it’s because the plaque had a typographical error on it.

“She devoted herself to service in this community, in so many organizations and projects,” said the Rev. Leanne Pearce Reed, pastor of Montevallo Presbyterian Church, where Sears was a trustee.

Sears hosted the church Christmas party at her home in 2012, with an exotic flair, Reed said. The home was decorated with treasures from a lifetime of world travel. “She wowed my young boys when she placed on the buffet a fabulous platter of fish, baked whole, head and all,” Reed said. “If she was going to do something, she would do it right.”

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