Tim Stevens, whose final day at The News & Observer after almost 50 years is Friday, decided not to write a farewell column. This is a bit surprising because over those four-plus decades Tim displayed an unerring ability to find the very best stories – and what he meant to so many people is one of them.
We will miss Tim because he made one of the hardest jobs in journalism look easy. Covering dozens of high schools spread across miles is tough enough to do, let alone do well. Tim did it better than anyone, and anyone who reads this paper on a regular basis knows that without sorting through all the halls of fame that count him as a member.
We will also miss Tim because he served as a constant inspiration – not only as a journalist, where he set the bar extremely high, but as a co-worker and one of the finest human beings any of us have been lucky to know.
Newspapering is the kind of business where work inevitably intrudes into one’s personal life, sometimes catastrophically, and Tim is an old-school newspaper man with ink under his fingernails. Yet while giving everything he had to the N&O, he still found time to maintain a portfolio of outside interests that would be a full-time job for some people.
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As a playwright, theater producer, frequent Disney visitor, civic pillar of Garner and active member of his church, to name just a few of his hobbies, and father of three, Tim managed to lead a full and vibrant life outside The N&O while still setting the bar at the highest for everyone at the office.
That kind of balance is so elusive in this business – in any business – and one can only imagine what he will accomplish when allowed to concentrate fully.
Tim still brought the same energy and enthusiasm to his job. After 25 years in the same role, with the school districts wired and coaches and parents whom he covered when they were players, it would have been all too easy for Tim to sit back and let the hours tick off the clock, let the job do itself. That was never his style.
One summer, he worked with our circulation department to re-evaluate all of the N&O’s high school coverage based on how the area’s demographics – and our sales – had changed. No one asked him to do it. He just went ahead and did it.
Another summer, he worked with a computer programmer to create a website where teams could enter their own scores and stats into a database that could generate not only standings but area leaders, long before anyone was doing that on the Internet.
For his entire career, he was committed to constant and continual improvement. We should all be so lucky to work with someone who can inspire us that way.
And we were all lucky to read his work. Above all else, he sought and wrote the kind of stories that he liked to read, stories that mattered, such as Jason Brown, the former North Carolina football player who bought a farm to grow food for the poor. He wrote about Rusty Wagstaff, who lost his hands and legs to septic shock, with unsparing detail and compassion. He took on major projects examining obesity and concussions in high school sports. His work not only continued to improve but perhaps even peaked as he was on his way out the door.
His final work will appear Sunday, the N&O’s area athletes of the year, but he decided not to write a farewell column. Certainly, his work speaks for itself. But by the same token, his final day should not go unacknowledged in these pages. He has contributed too much to them, and they were so much better for his presence in them.
I don’t know what we’ll do without Tim. I do know he’ll be just fine without us.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947