Photo By Tommy Stafford : My friend, the late Steve Crandall looks at the Blue Ridge Mountains off in the distance. Steve was always in awe of the beauty that surrounded where he lived. May 8, 2006
Nelson County, Virginia
By Tommy Stafford
I’ve thought for months what I’d say when this day finally came. I really, really hoped I wouldn’t have to, but here we are. My friend Steve is gone. Mind you there are countless people that knew Steve far better than me. Lots of people have been friends with him much longer than the 17 or so years I knew him, but this is my personal remembrance.
Long before there was a Devils Backbone, Yvette and I became friends with Steve . We became friends with his wife Heidi and his children, Mallory, Justin & Brittany. Mallory was the first baby sitter our kids ever knew. One of their absolute favorites too! Heidi and other friends even hosted a baby shower at their farm for our first child, Adam, back in 2008.
Steve’s youngest daughter Mallory with our son Adam. On the left he was weeks old in 2008, on the right one year later at the one year anniversary of the opening of Steve’s Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company. November 2008 & November 2009.
When a younger and more naive Tommy & Yvette came to Nelson, Steve welcomed us with open arms. When we started our magazine with nothing more than a red notebook binder with writing in it that said, “Story goes here, ads go here, etc,” Steve said, “I’m in.” He bought the entire first year and paid it up front. He barely knew who we were back then. But he believed in what we were doing. That magazine lasted 16 straight years. 193 issues. Steve was our first client, but this wasn’t a first for Steve. He did many firsts in business. But that’s not what I remember Steve for.
Steve with Yvette back in November of 2016 here in Nelson County, Virginia at his restaurant.
When Yvette and I were trying to have kids, and it wasn’t as easy as it looked, Steve constantly encouraged me. He said, “Being a father will be the greatest thing you will ever do in life!” He was right. Steve loved, loved, loved his family. Back then his kids were working their way through the final years of school and college. He was always talking about how proud he was of his entire family.
Steve was already sort of a celebrity in Nelson. His construction company Tectonics II was already very successful and it was normal seeing Steve around. I remember what Greg Shifflet, the former and longtime owner of Graves Grocery said about Steve when we did a story on the store back in the early 2000’s. “I don’t know how many people who come in, all they gotta do is shake their head at me and I can whip their sandwich up,” he laughs. Steve Crandall of Tectonics II in Beech Grove, eats breakfast there every morning. “He comes in, waves his hand, and I got it for him because I’m the breakfast man!”
Steve (right) with his son Justin Crandall back in March of 2015 during the relocation of the old Arrington Depot across the lot at Devils Backbone. Justin took over ownership of the family construction business, Tectonics II, a few years ago.
Steve and I would often have what we started referring to as the men’s quarterly lunch. It was just guy talk about life and such. Steve always invited us to get togethers at his farm to make us relative newcomers feel welcome. Birthdays, Christmas parties, and such. I vividly remember two such parties. One was Steve’s 50th birthday, the other in July after a huge derecho hit the county. The temps were around 100 degrees and power was out everywhere, Steve still had his 4th of July party. And it was fantastic!
Steve (left) with one of his best friends, Tom Saunders just after a 2008 turkey hunt. Steve and Tom spent many days hunting and teaching others how to hunt.
Though Steve wasn’t responsible for teaching my wife Yvette how to hunt, he was the spark that got her interested. One of Steve’s very best friends, Tom Saunders, actually took Yvette under his wing and made her a very good hunter. But that started with Yvette being introduced to all of the amazing meals we had with Steve. Many from hunts he’d been on.
Steve in this photo from June 2012. His wife Heidi shot this as he was sawing his way down Route 151 after a major windstorm (derecho) downed trees from Northern Virginia to the NC/VA state line. Steve was literally clearing the highway where people could make it down the road after the storm.
The Steve I personally knew and liked wasn’t so much the energetic business, brewing and building icon that many others knew of him. It was just the guy that would sit on the tailgate of his truck and look in awe of the mountains and say, “Don’t we live in a beautiful place?” Or when the derecho downed trees everywhere he could be found sawing his way down 151 with a making the way for others. Or just calling me (at 5:45 AM!! – he was an early riser!) just to chat about something he was thinking about.
After spending the first 10 years in the north part of Nelson County, we finally bought a farm on the other side just a mile or so from Steve. He and his family became neighbors. I would pass his house several times a day headed down the mountain into Nellysford. Never in. million years did I think I’d be passing there one day and looking to the right and knowing he was gone for good.
I won’t go into details here other than to say that cancer took Steve’s life. He shared a lot of details, and concerns in those early days after the diagnosis. Fear wasn’t one of them, at least not back then. Steve was full of life and he knew all things in nature have a shelf life, including him. If it was going to be his time, so be it. He wanted to pass at home and, thankfully, he got that wish.
The last time I saw Steve and got to talk to him in person was shortly after Thanksgiving 2020. His wife Heidi called and said they had a lot of pumpkins if we wanted them for the pigs. While I was loading them, Steve walked out and chatted for a bit before walking over to his side by side and took off with a friend to check some game cameras. I spoke once more to him by phone in early 2021 and that was it. He never said it outright, but I could tell it wasn’t good. I never saw or spoke to him again after that. But I never quit looking at that house and farm on the right every single day as I passed.
And I will never stop looking at that house and farm on the right ever single day as I pass. I’ll smile and remember you Steve and all of those great memories of the past.
See you on the other side my friend.