Remembering My Mentor, Lydel Sims

As a beginning freelancer, I was extremely lucky to have as my mentor Lydel Sims, a columnist for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. In addition to writing his daily humor column, Lydel taught writing classes at what was then Memphis State University (now University of Memphis) and in later years he wrote columns on word usage for several publications. I profited from all those efforts, reading and enjoying every day his humorous view of the human condition, taking several of his classes (and selling my first articles as a result), and depending on many of his grammar columns to help make my articles as good as I could make them.

Lydel was also an acclaimed book author, journalist, poet and freelance magazine writer. When I first signed up for his feature writing class, he took under his wing this timid, formerly stay-at-home mother of five, and introduced me to the wide world of writing. He made suggestions to improve my work, he encouraged me to study for a journalism degree, and he gave me the boost I needed to become a selling writer. He gave similar support to every student in his class. We all learned a lot about a lot of things from him — and especially to appreciate to the fullest his low-key humor.

Some of his now-yellowed-with-age grammar columns are tucked away in my bookshelf and I pull them out from time to time to refresh my memory about what he wrote about words and correct usage, and to remember the role he played in my writing life. Here are two excerpts from his columns:

A reader wrote him:

Sir: I know it is not correct to say, “I feel badly about it,” but what about the word “strong”? It seems rather awkward to say, “I feel strong about it.” Is it proper to use the adverb “strongly” in this case?

Lydel’s answer:

Yes, indeed, because this is an entirely different situation.
When you say, “I feel bad,” that’s like saying, “I feel good” — you’re using a linking verb followed by a predicate adjective to describe yourself, specifically your sense of happiness or health.
Similarly, when you say, “I feel strong,” you are describing your physical state.
“I feel strongly,” on the other hand, has nothing to do with your health, but with your attitude. “Strongly” here is not a predicate adjective but an adverb, and is clearly the word you want in your example. Go ahead and feel as strongly as you wish.”

Another reader wrote:

Sir: You press people have been called “the Fourth Estate.” Can you explain the origin of this expression and why you came in only fourth?

Lydel replied:

The expression comes from Britain, whose traditional three estates were the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and Commons. According to Carlyle, Edmund Burke referred to the three estates in a speech in Parliament and then added: “But in the reporters’ gallery yonder there sits a fourth estate more important far than all.”

It’s only fair to note that, even earlier, an English writer said the Fourth Estate was “The Mob.” Journalists seldom tell anybody that, but who asked?

I spoke with Lydel about a year before he died and told him how much he had influenced me and my writing. By that time I had earned my journalism degree and been a newspaper reporter and a magazine editor before turning to full-time freelancing. I wanted him to know how much I appreciated his support for me as a beginning writer and later on as a journalist and editor. I’m glad I made that phone call.

Please leave a comment
© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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13 Comments on “Remembering My Mentor, Lydel Sims”

  1. Dhane Marques says:

    I was thinking of Mr. Sims today as I watched a black wooly bear cross the road from north to south. I wish I remembered what that means!

    I wonder if there are archives of his columns. Can you help me find writings by him


  2. ldaley says:

    I’m glad you remember Mr. Sims, too! Black wooly bears! I know he used to write about them some, but I can’t remember exactly what that means either. It would be great if his columns were archived, but the Commercial Appeal archives cover only June 1990 to the present. The Memphis Public Library and Information Center has the newspaper for all issues, if I am not mistaken, so the columns should be found there, I think.
    It is good of you to comment. Thank you!

  3. Pat says:

    ‘Tis near the time for the wooly bear to emerge and provide us with the most accurate winter forecast known to man. The thicker the “coat” and the more defined the stripes, the harsher the winter to come.
    He and Al Dunning were a pleasure to read.

  4. ldaley says:

    You are right! I know that Lydel’s column was always a pleasure to read. I think Al Dunning was sports editor for the Commercial Appeal and i seldom even looked at the sports pages. I’m glad you provided an update about the role of the wooly bear in predicting winter weather. A wooly bear column was a tradition with Lydel every fall. We need somebody like him writing for today’s Memphis newspapers. His brand of humor is sadly lacking. Thanks so much for reminding us about wooly bears and for your comment.

  5. Ed Gaines says:

    We’ve been having nasty weather lately (i.e., snow), and it’s put me in mind of the little verse Mr. Sims would publish every time the White Blight would molest Memphis, to wit:

    I think that I shall never see /
    A snow flake that appeals to me. /
    A flake that quickly turns to ice. /
    You get up once, you fall down twice. /
    Oh, let the nature lovers gush — /
    Some day the stuff will turn to slush!

    Of course, snow was not the only meteorological bane against which Mr. Sims carried out a good-natured vendetta. There was a period in Memphis when, no matter how hard or long it rained, the weather folk could be counted upon to come on the air and warn that we were still short rainfall for the year. Eventually, Mr. Sims began writing stories about having to bail 6 inches of drought out of his basement over the day before, or about how he had to wade out through a foot and a half of drought to get his paper that morning.

    I seem to recall that after a few weeks of this satire, the weather people finally gave up lecturing us about rain-shortage. But perhaps I’m just an old man remembering life as it should have been, and not as it was.

    • ldaley says:

      What a delightful comment!. Thank you so much for sharing. Those are fine examples of the wonderful sense of humor that Lydel had and that we enjoyed so much. I had completely forgotten about that little poem of his. Didn’t he also have one about raking leaves?

  6. smook says:

    the profoundest quesiton remains: “are grits singular, or is they plural?”

  7. ldaley says:

    Truly a profound question. I can’t remember if Lydel ever wrote about grits. As for myself, I tend to put grits in the same category as rice — and I’d probably say, “that rice is tasty” but “those grits are tasty.” Wish Lydel were still around to settle the question.
    Thanks for your comment.

  8. Harold Daughety says:

    Back in the 50’s we had the Sunday Commercial Appeal delivered. It was the only reading material other than the Bible in our home during the summer. Mr. Sims had a poetry section – was that his original work, and is it available anywhere? That poetry and Walt Kelly’s Pogo made me the man I am today.

    He, I could turned out worse!

  9. June says:

    I remember reading Lydell Sims’ column. I lived his gentle sense of humor. Do you by any chance have a copy of his poem that began with “I think that I will never see a snowflake that appeals to me”? He ran it every year with the first snow.

    • ldaley says:

      I regret that I didn’t have a copy of his poem until Ed Gaines posted it in his comment here on Feb. 24, 2010. You can read the poem and his entire comment above. I’m so thankful that Ed put it on this site.

      I’m also grateful for your comment.Thank You!

  10. eroach says:

    Regarding the grits is/are question: Yes, Lydel Sims did write about that, As I recall, it was a recurring controversy in his column when I was reading it. (This was in the late 1950s, when I was in elementary school!) I don’t remember if there was a final answer, and my family moved too far away to ever see the column again. I’ve remembered his name all this time, and it’s surprising to finally run across these articles that actually mention him, as if in confirmation that he did exist. And I, too, grew up to become a writer.

    • ldaley says:

      I’m always pleased when someone who remembers Lydel’s columns also reads this blog and tells us about him. I’m also glad that you became a writer. I think Lydel would be pleased about that, too. Thanks so much for your comment.

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