If you’ve ever had a rival who competed so fiercely with that she won your admiration, and ultimately your friendship, you know how I felt about Pauli Crooke.
There was a time when I detested her and had no doubt that she detested me. But when she died last month, at 85, the news brought a sense of loss. State Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, a friend of hers, called to let me know about it.
“We were talking about a lot of things a week or so before she died, and she mentioned you,” Buckner-Webb said. “She referred to you as ‘that kid who gave her a run for her money.'”
Coming from Pauli, there could have been no higher compliment. We were reporters on the city beat at a pivotal time in Boise’s history. I was a rookie at The Statesman; she was a veteran at Channel 2 when Channel 2 was without a close second as the dominant local news station.
It was an exciting time to be a local-government reporter in Boise. The city was busy tearing itself down in the name of urban renewal. One downtown building after another was being demolished to make way for a shopping mall. The city had joined the county and its other cities in hiring a staff of professional planners in an effort to avoid mistakes other places had made as they’d grown. And the population was about to explode.
We traded jabs like pugilists. One day I’d beat Pauli on a story about the leveling of yet another department store – there used to be five downtown – and the next day she’d beat me on a decision to raze a historic hotel. I’d beat her on a plan for a new bus system and she’d beat me on a plan for improving traffic flow. We were friendly to each other’s faces, but fought like pit bulls to develop sources and get the news in print or on the air first.
Being first trumped almost everything – so much so that her boss, who later became mayor, once remarked during a city council meeting that Channel 2 wasn’t interested in a story – no matter how important – if it had already been in The Statesman.
Important as they were, I had almost zero enthusiasm for covering the city’s annual budget meetings. They were long, complicated, excruciatingly tedious. Never good with numbers and possessing limited patience for boring meetings, I skipped most of them to work on more interesting stories. But I did make it to the final meeting at which that year’s budget was adopted – and for which Pauli was inexplicably absent. She’d dutifully attended every other budget meeting, but missed the one that counted. I wrote my story and gloated when it wasn’t on Channel 2 the night before.
“It was the only time,” she later admitted, “that I cried about being beaten on a story.”
Tears didn’t stop her, however, from promptly beating me on a story I’d been working on for weeks. The day before it was published, my primary source called her out of the blue and dropped it in her lap. Unlike my rival, I did not cry. But I did get a stern talking-to from the boss for throwing my AP Style Book across the newsroom.
We saw each other less after she was promoted to the news director’s job at Channel 2 – CBS’s first female news director in the U.S. – and I moved from the local government beat to editorial writing and then column writing. (When CBS flew her to New York to give a speech, she learned at the last minute that she’d be following Walter Cronkite.) And we lost contact entirely when she moved to New York in 1978. To my surprise, I missed her.
An activist at heart, she helped found the Boise chapter of the NAACP, led the effort to establish the Idaho Human Rights Commission and won a truckload of professional and public-service awards.
Late in life, she moved back to Boise and the onetime nemeses had a rivalry-free and thoroughly enjoyable reunion. Only then did I realize what an honor it was to have gone head to head with this accomplished, fiercely competitive woman. She embodied what it meant to be a good reporter and public-spirited citizen. If there were more Pauli Crookes, democracy would be better for it.
March brought another passing, this one of a very different sort. Lew Johnson, a player in Boise’s early rock scene, died at 68 in Phoenix.
He was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. Though we were never close friends – we played in rival groups – he never failed to make me laugh. He drove an old behemoth of a Nash that was absolutely silent. When you least expected it, he’d glide up behind your car, bump it and have everyone in both cars in hysterics.
Lew played in the mid ’60s in a very good band called the Quirks. His death is the latest of many local musical passings: Dick Cates, John Arant, Tim Bosworth, Eddie Heuman, Drake Levin, Vance Shirley, John Hynes, Leo Lawrence, Dennis Mulliken, Charlie Bieker, Cliff Green, Steve Johnson … trailblazers who started rock and roll in Boise and kept it going.
All gone. Maybe someone should start an Idaho Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – before the history is gone, too.