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
County in south Texas.
Arambula, the retired Laredo
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
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
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
. 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.
said that she acquired her love of learning from this
While she attended the former Laredo High
, Sorrell covered football
for the local newspaper. She was paid a dime per column inch.
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
to help to cover the costs of her education.
She returned to Laredo in 1931
to teach mathematics
at a Laredo
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
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
He is married to Myrene Sorrell. Her
husband, Norman W.A. Sorrell, who worked in a tax office, died of a
in 1944. Sorrell was hence
widowed at thirty-three and never remarried.
A woman of theatrics
In an interview published on January 8
2007, with the San Antonio
, Sorrell launched into a recitation from
memory of the witch's poem from Shakespeare
. "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
, 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.
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."
decried the state of affairs in Laredo, damaged in the past several
years by the Mexican drug cartels, the border violence, and
"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
Sorell entered hospice
care in February
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
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
. 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
, 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
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,
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.
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.
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.
- Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje, "Soon to be 98, writer, former
teacher still going strong" (feature article on Elizabeth Sorrell),
San Antonio Express-News, January 8, 2007; reprinted in
Laredo Morning Times, July 16, 2007; (To reach Melissa
Fletcher Stoeltje, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Odie Arambula column, "We see Sorrell reaading Macbeth to
Shakespeare", Laredo Morning Times, August 6, 2007
- Christina Rosales, "Former students recall late teacher's
gentle guidance," Laredo Morning Times, July 17, 2007;
- "Sorrell services today at Christ Church Episcopal", Laredo
Morning Times, July 27, 2007
- Christina Rosales, "Friends recall beloved teacher", Laredo
Morning Times, July 29, 2007;
- Julian Aguilar, "Sosa wants to become DA", Laredo Morning
Times, October 18, 2007, p. 3A
(Sample of "Lines from Liz", 2002)