Two journalists – both respected for their many years of service and dedication to communities as newspaper publishers – will be inducted into the Alabama Newspaper Hall of Honor on Nov. 7 at Auburn University.
Sam H. Oliver, who was the owner and editor of The LaFayette Sun, and Ralph W. Sears, owner and editor of the Shelby County Reporter, will be the 105th and 106th journalists inducted posthumously by the Alabama Press Association since the Alabama Newspaper Hall of Honor was established in 1959.
The ceremony will be at 10 a.m. in the Alabama Newspaper Hall of Honor Room in the Ralph Brown Draughon Library.
Oliver was born in Tallapoosa County on May 8, 1878, of a family prominent in business, cultural and professional circles. As a young man he followed the printed trade and was at one time working with the Associated Press. The Dadeville native also spent a year at The Daily News in Wilson, S.C., and the following year closer to home at The Columbus Ledger in Georgia. He came to LaFayette in 1901 and started working with The LaFayette Sun as its local editor.
Oliver bought The Sun from then editor and publisher A.W. Holstun on March 6, 1907. For 15 years, Oliver served as the paper’s editor and publisher until December 1922, when he sold the newspaper. He built up The Sun to one of the state’s best weekly newspapers, an opinion which was supported by The Montgomery Advertiser when Edward Doty also referred to Oliver as “one of Alabama’s best newspaper editors.”
Oliver was elected to the LaFayette City Council in 1916 while he was publisher of The Sun. The council named him mayor in 1918 following the resignation of George Collins. He campaigned for the office and was elected for his first full term in 1920. For the following 28 years of the 32 years he was LaFayette’s mayor, he never ran opposed.
“When Oliver took over, the city’s credit wasn’t worth a plugged nickel. When he died, no city had a better credit than LaFayette,” reported The LaFayette Sun in 1950. “As one good friend remarked on hearing of his death: ‘When Sam Oliver cut wood, he didn’t look to see where the chips fell.’ Right was right to his way of thinking, and right it was in his handling of the affairs of his town.”
Sears held many jobs in his lifetime, but many agree that his greatest legacy may have been his kindness, fairness and service to others.
Sears owned radio station WBYE in Calera, Ala., and broadcasted early-morning news for many years. In 1967, he and his wife, Marcia, purchased the Shelby County Reporter and published it until 1984.
The newspaper became an award-winning publication under the Sears name, and the couple built it into what is still one of the largest weekly newspapers in the Southeast.
Bill Keller, former executive director of the Alabama Press Association, worked with Sears at the University of Montevallo from 1977 through 1982 and said, “We at the APA will remember him for his consistent support and interest. He and Marcia divided the work. Marcia managed the Reporter, and he managed the radio station. He has been a community presence since he arrived in the late 1940s. He brought his touch of fairness, intelligence, low-key good humor and a good and loving spirit first to Alabama College, then to Montevallo and Alabama. He has set an example of community service for many younger people over the years, and his calm, fair and eloquent manner has set an example for other public servants and civic leaders in Shelby County for years to come.”
Sears, who was born in Grand Island, Neb., on Oct. 8, 1922, was elected to the Montevallo City Council in 1956, and in 1972 was elected mayor of the community, a position he held until his death.
(Contributed by Kevin Loden.)