Elizabeth Sorrell

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Elizabeth Nye Sorrell
Born (1909-02-04)February 4, 1909
Laredo, Webb County, Texas, USA
Died July 15, 2007(2007-07-15) (aged 98)
San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas
Resting place Laredo City Cemetery
Alma mater

Rice University'

University of Texas at Austin
Spouse(s) Norman W. A. Sorrell (died 1944)
Children Sterling Norman Sorrell
Notes

(1) A Laredo newspaper editor declared that Elizabeth Sorrell "will forever be a legend in this town because she taught thousands and thousands of students . . . and was better known than anybody else."

(2) After nearly a half-century of teaching, mostly at Martin High School in Laredo, Sorrell launched a 15-year career in journalism as a popular society columnist for the Laredo Morning Times

Elizabeth Nye Sorrell (February 4, 1909 - July 15, 2007) was a high school English teacher for nearly a half century before she launched a second 15-year career as a newspaper society columnist in Laredo, the seat of Webb County in south Texas. Odie Arambula, the retired Laredo Morning Times editor, said of his former colleague: "In my opinion she will forever be a legend in this town because she taught thousands and thousands of students over the years. She was better known than anybody else." She called her popular column "Lines from Liz".

Early years, family heritage, education[edit]

Sorrell was born in Laredo to a prosperous onion farmer, but both of her parents died young in life. Their farm was on the site of the current Doctor's Hospital in north Laredo. She was descended from settlers aboard the ship which followed the Mayflower to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Her great-grandfather traveled from Massachusetts to Matagorda Bay on the Texas Gulf Coast and perished in a hurricane. His son, Thomas C. Nye, her paternal grandfather, fought for the Confederate States of America and was captured in the American Civil War. He escaped and went on to become the "Onion King of the Rio Grande," being the first to have planted that crop in the irrigated Laredo soil. Sorrell said that she acquired her love of learning from this grandfather.

While she attended the former Laredo High School, Sorrell covered football games for the local newspaper. She was paid a dime per column inch. In 1927, she graduated from high school and thereafter attended Rice University in Houston, where she lived with an aunt and an uncle and worked the switchboard at Methodist Hospital to help to cover the costs of her education. She returned to Laredo in 1931 to teach mathematics at a Laredo junior high school. She switched in 1933 to her real interest, English, which she taught at Laredo High School, which in 1937 was renamed Martin High School. There she stayed until her retirement in 1979. She also sponsored the school newspaper and yearbook. She later procured a master's degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

Sorrell lived for many years at the family home on Farragut Street downtown and then on Victoria Street in a house, since demolished, within the St. Peter's Historical District. She married and had one child, Sterling Norman Sorrell (born May 2, 1938), a lawyer in Colorado Springs. He is married to Myrene Sorrell. Her husband, Norman W.A. Sorrell, who worked in a tax office, died of a heart attack in 1944. Sorrell was hence widowed at thirty-three and never remarried.

A woman of theatrics[edit]

In an interview published on January 8, 2007, with the San Antonio Express-News, Sorrell launched into a recitation from memory of the witch's poem from Shakespeare's Macbeth. "You know the talk about 'fair is foul and foul is fair' is the theme of Macbeth. . . . It's about the conflict between good and evil." Sheila Glassford (born 1934), a former student of Sorrell's who has long been active in the Laredo Daughters of the American Revolution, said that her mentor had "such a tremendous voice, so theatrical. It's like she could have been on stage."

Sorrell wrote a society column for the South Texas Citizen and then for the Laredo Morning Times until she was in her late eighties. She had recently written profiles of prominent Laredoans for Meg Guerra's alternative monthly newspaper called LareDOS: A Journal of the Borderlands. Known for her booming, deep voice, Sorrell would ask people at society events: "Who are you?" as a way of getting information for her columns.

Political iconoclast[edit]

Sorrell was a sharp critic of U.S. President George W. Bush and the Iraq War: "I don't like Bush at all. I think he's awful. . . . He told lies about Iraq, and I don't think we should have gone in there at all. I don't believe in spilling American blood on things like that. I don't think the world has ever looked as bad as it does now."

She also decried the state of affairs in Laredo, damaged in the past several years by the Mexican drug cartels, the border violence, and kidnappings.

"Whether it's in terms of her knowledge of politics or culture or her vital interest in the world, she's a role model for everybody . . . a real activist and always has been," said the poet Naomi Shihab Nye, whose husband is a distant cousin to Sorrell.

Death and legacy[edit]

Sorell entered hospice care in February 2007. She died at the age of ninety-eight in Morningside Manor in San Antonio, where she had relocated in 2003 to live in nearby Helotes with a granddaughter, Virginia Elizabeth Sorrell Lynn, who later moved to Germany and then Huntsville, Alabama. Sorrell then resided in the Meadows Retirement Community. She also had a grandson, Andrew Norman Sorrell of Austin.

A prayer service in Sorrell's honor was held at Christ Church Episcopal in Laredo on July 27, 2007. A memorial service was held at the church on July 28. Afterwards, the Martin High School band, in bright red shirts, played the school's fighting song and alma mater in the courtyard of the church. On Sunday, July 29, a eucharistic mass at Christ Church was dedicated in Sorrell's honor. Sorrell was cremated; her ashes were spread on the gravesite of her husband in Laredo City Cemetery. She was the oldest living parishioner of Christ Church. After her move to San Antonio, she continued to make an annual pledge and still considered the church her home congregation.

Reflecting on her long tenure in the classroom, Sorrell recalled: "Once I said to a class, 'I love you. I wish I could adopt you.' The next day on the board they had written: Juan Carlos Sorrell, Ma. Luisa Gonzalez Sorrell, Carlos Juarez Sorrell. They adopted me, too."

John Andrew Snyder (born ca. 1950) of Laredo, a student in Sorrell's class in 1964, recalled her positive outlook and vigor in teaching. "She never complained about anything. Life, or work, she never wanted you to complain either. She never forced you to be happy, but just by the way she was, she convinced you to be happy," Snyder told the Laredo journalist Christina Rosales.

Laredo attorney Fausto Sosa (born 1960) said that Mrs. Sorrell inspired him to launch his unsuccessful 2008 campaign for district attorney of Webb and Zapata counties.

A scholarship was established in Sorrell's name in 1994 for communication students at the Vidal M. Treviño School of Communications and Fine Arts. Seed money for the awards were provided by the Laredo Morning Times and the Hearst Corporation. At the time of Sorrell's death, forty-two students had received money for college in her name.

Ray Keck, president of Texas A&M International University in Laredo, said that he plans to establish the Elizabeth Nye Sorrell Archives to preserve her letters and articles as well as pictures of her.

References[edit]